Skip to main content

When Corey Schon returned for his senior year the University of Central Florida in Orlando, his intention was to get a part-time job on-campus to provide himself with supplemental income. After answering what seemed like an endless amount of ads and countless job postings, he was able to secure one interview with the manager of a local campus coffee shop.

"When I arrived, there were several other students already filling out applications," Schon says, adding that his prior experience as a barista at Starbucks didnt help him land the position. Now, Schon is working for an off-campus food service company, a job that requires him to commute for 30-45 minutes each day.

"It was frustrating," Schon says, adding that hes continuing to keep an eye out for other on-campus opportunities. "I would take less pay to work in a much more convenient setting."

Unfortunately, Schon isnt the only student having difficulty securing on-campus employment. And many college representatives acknowledge the job market has changed.

"There are more students than there are jobs," Steve Irving, director of student employment at California State University in Chico, says. It doesn't mean it's impossible to find a job. It does mean that the market is more competitive."

What's contributing to the overcrowding is more complicated than it seems. Students seeking on-campus employment, generally speaking, fall into two different categories: those receiving federal work-study as part of their financial aid package, and those who aren't.

Federal Work-Study provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses. However, unlike other federal aid programs, such as the Pell Grant, there's a cap on the funding available. This means that college financial aid officers can only offer as many opportunities as the money will allow, regardless of whether students meet the financial requirements or not.

"Not all FWS-qualified students are offered FWS employment," Jane Glickman, press officer for the U.S. Department of Education, explains. "My guess is that there are always students who are not offered FWS who ask for it anyway. I guess that means there's more demand than the program can satisfy."

Schools are awarded federal work-study funding based on the previous years enrollment of low-income students. According to Glickman, colleges and universities are typically guaranteed a minimum amount equal to what a school received and spent in federal work study in a prior year. What is complicating matters this school year is that the 2009-2010 federal budget included $200 million in additional funding for the Work-Study program provided through the economic stimulus bill.

The one-time influx increased the numbers of work-study recipients during the 2009-2010 school year to 930,000 students. This year, that number has returned to 768,000 as it was the year before.

While this could force schools to cut positions created through the additional funding last year, Glickman points outs that "schools can always add more of their own money, if they have it, to FWS and thus expand the number of opportunities on their campuses."

Luckily for students, most schools, reluctant to cut jobs due to federal funding fluctuations, do subsidize beyond the minimum. DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for example, has kept its work study budget at $1.2 million for the past few years, despite the fact that they received $250,000 in federal funding as this year opposed to the $385,000 the influx supplied them with the year before.

"The $385,000 was a welcome relief," Craig Slaughter, director of financial aid at DePauw, says, explaining that it allowed the university to fund other academic programs in its budget last year. However, he adds, "DePauw does supplement, so we didn't have to cut."

TheStreet Recommends

The larger cause for the crunch, Slaughter explains, is that more students who are offered federal work-study are taking advantage of the aid.
"Before, 60% to 70% of students offered work-study wouldn't take it," Heather Dunn, assistant director of the Career Center at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., agreed. "Now about 70% are."

This restricts the amount of positions available to students, like Schon, who were not offered jobs through the federal program.

"This year, we're seeing 40 to 80 students apply for each position," Carrie Lynn Barnhouse, Career Center Director at Liberty University in Lynchberg, Va., said. "That's a large number for us, compared to previous years."

This influx, representatives say, is directly related to the state of our economy. More students are inclined to work part-time while in school as their parents may be unable to provide them with spending money due to their own financial constraints. Off-campus employment is harder to come by as full-time workers are starting to take jobs previously occupied by part-time workers.

Additionally, students unable to work over the summer largely for the same reason are hoping to net some supplemental income by working during the school year.

"Lack of work over the summer has increased the pressure to secure a job right away," Slaughter explains.

The increase in student job seekers is changing the on-campus employment process. Before, students more often than not had to fill out a single application to be considered for a job, Now, according to Barnhouse, they are increasingly required to submit resumes and cover letters, provide references or recommendations and go on several job interviews before an on-campus employer selects a candidate for the position.

The students who are most successful with their job search are the ones who embrace the process and choose to stick with it. Slaughter points out that many positions become available as the school year progresses.

"Oftentimes, students think they want to work, when they really don't," he says, explaining that students who initially find themselves without a job can pick up these positions over time.

Those who do sincerely need or want the hours also need to be flexible. Irving points out that oftentimes students looking for on-campus jobs have certain positions in mind. Schon, for example, was initially hoping to find a job that directly applied to his Digital Reading and Writing major. Others often look to get clerical positions that aren't particularly labor intensive.

"Now, [these students] might have to take a job raking leaves," Irving says.

Regardless of the cause, college representatives do agree that the current campus climate is providing valuable training for students post-graduation day.

"I tell them 'this is the real world," Barnhouse said. "The same principles apply."