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CU-Boulder undergraduates working for pay

Lou McClelland, CU-Boulder Office of Data Analytics, August 2002

CU-Boulder freshmen and seniors were surveyed in spring 2002 about working for pay both on-campus and off-campus. Freshmen and seniors at ten other public research universities around the country (e.g., Ohio State, U. of Maryland) were surveyed at the same time with the same instrument. We also have information on students' reasons for working from a 1999 survey.

Hours of paid work

Students responded in 5-hour increments (e.g., '11-15 hours per week'). We have converted these responses to estimates of hours using the middle of the range (e.g., 13 hours for the 11-15 range).

Freshmen average about 4 hours of paid work per week, seniors about 12. Freshmen worked 40% of their hours in on-campus jobs; seniors 27% on campus. Results for the other public research universities (combined) are virtually identical.

The averages hide great variability over students. Only 35% of freshmen reported any paid work, with 5% working 20 or more hours per week. 18% of freshmen worked off-campus only, 13% on-campus only, and 3% both. The 35% with any paid work averaged 12.4 hours per week.

In contrast, 73% of seniors reported some paid work, and 22% reported working 20 or more hours per week. 48% worked off-campus only, 18% on-campus only, and 7% both. The 73% with any paid work averaged 16.9 hours per week.

Full distributions of total hours worked per week (as estimated from the incremental responses)
Hrs/wk Percent Cum Pct
Frsh Sr Frsh Sr
0 65 27 65 27
1-5 7 3 72 30
6-10 9 13 81 43
11-15 9 20 90 64
16-20 3 13 94 77
21-25 2 9 97 87
26-30 1 6 98 94
Over 30 1 5 100 100

Reasons for and consequences of working

In 1999 we asked undergraduates working for pay about their reasons for working. About 60% said they work to earn money "for basic expenses." Another 20% said to earn "extra spending money." Another 16% (ranging from 8% of freshmen to 20% of seniors) said they worked to gain knowledge and skills. For full results see (select "Work status while attending UCB").

Paid work on campus is often through the federal or state work-study program, with part of the student's salary paid by federal or state financial aid funds, part by the student's university employer. On-campus work helps students to meet other students and to learn how the university works.

Paid work, especially over about 15 hours per week, can prompt students to enroll for fewer hours. Among 2002 survey respondents, however, hours of paid work per week is completely unrelated to reported hours per week preparing for class.

ODA has work in progress to check effects of paid work hours on time to graduation.


Last revision 05/02/16

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