Study: Students Struggle to Pay for College

LOS ANGELES — A new study revealed that community college students are working an average of 23 hours per week to cover college costs, a work schedule that may be affecting academic performance.
According to the report by the California Student Public Interest Research Group titled “Working Too Hard to Make the Grade,” students could graduate faster and with better grades if they spent less time at their jobs and more time in the classroom.
Twenty-four percent of community college students who intend to either earn an associate degree or transfer to a four-year institution within four years took six years to accomplish their goals, according to the report.
“This is a real problem because there is good evidence that students who work more than 15 to 20 hours per week do not do well in school,” says Saffron Zomer, CSPIRG campus program director. “Students — especially students attending community college — need to spend all their time on their studies if they want to succeed in school.”
Zomer says a major contributing factor to student workloads is a “fundamental misunderstanding about financial aid.”
“More students need to apply for financial aid,” Zomer says. “One problem is that students believe financial aid requirements are stricter than they actually are.”
CSPIRG recommends that financial aid offices correct these misunderstandings. However, a lack of staff often makes implementing a more proactive approach difficult.
“All financial aid offices reported working on skeleton staffs,” Zomer says. “Part of the problem is these agencies need reliable, adequate funding to afford the mission.”
Another misconception among students and the community is that attending community college is cheap. While that is true for tuition, that represents only 5 percent of the total cost of community college, Zomer says. Other expenses include transportation, childcare, housing and books.
“Community college students don’t largely understand debt,” Zomer says, pointing out that many turn to credit cards to finance their college expenses. “A role of financial aid offices is to make sure students are well educated about debt and how to pay for school.”
A portion of the study includes an anthology highlighting personal stories by students related to balancing work and study. One Fresno City College student wrote that, in working 45 hours a week at Taco Bell, it’s not uncommon for him to receive a call from the restaurant requiring him to show up right away, making attending school extremely difficult.
CSPIRG is working closely with legislative aides, community college chancellors and financial aid staffs to pinpoint changes that can be made based on the study results.
Read the complete report at