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Work, Earn, and Learn: Transforming the On-Campus Student Employment Experience

June 7, 2018 Omari Burnside NASPA

Rising tuition costs, family obligations, resume-building, and handling the curveballs life can throw, are just a few reasons why working while in school is a must for many students. On average 70 to 80 percent of full- or part-time students are employed either on- or off-campus. This prevalence of student employment has sparked interest among both practitioners and policymakers to explore and ultimately leverage the impact student employment, on-campus employment specifically, can have on student success. If operationalized effectively, on-campus employment can provide students with a greater sense of financial security, while also improving learning, career-readiness, and persistence outcomes. Recognizing these benefits, many institutions have advanced the use of federal work-study and institutional-funded campus-based employment programs as part of an overall student success strategy.

NASPA intends to further this research in student employment. By conducting a national landscape analysis, we hope to better understand how institutions maximize on-campus student employment funds to improve undergraduate student retention. Using insights gleaned from campus site visits and interviews with professionals from institutions, we’ve developed a national survey that will be released later this month.

Here, we offer a high-level summary of three emerging themes drawn from our initial conversations with institutions.

1. The application process is a critical element of the student employment experience.

Building a strong application process is necessary for several reasons. First, ensuring that the job application process is both transparent and fair is a priority for many campuses. Having everything posted online in a central database, hosting job fairs, and using social media are seen as effective ways to increase awareness of the range of opportunities available at an institution. Secondly, setting job expectations early on is essential. Managers of student employment programs are in the process of creating job descriptions that more accurately reflect employee job responsibilities, preferred skill sets, and (in some cases) expected learning outcomes. Having clearly defined skills and responsibilities in each job description helps applicants manage expectations and discern the differences in position roles. 

2. Supervisors of student employees are often the lynchpin to any successful student employment experience.

Supervisors have considerable influence over a student employee’s level satisfaction and growth in a position. To address challenges faced by professional staff who may be new or inexperienced to managing students in a supervisory role, many institutions provide online and in-person capacity-building supports. Interviewees cited the use of supervisor handbooks that include information on hiring procedures, guidance on student employee compliance regulations and employee evaluations, as well as other pertinent information. For example, Stony Brook University offers a series of supervisor guides, video tutorials, and in-person workshops for on-campus employers. Topics range from developing a job description (with samples) to serving as a reference to student employees as they transition into the workforce.

3. Shifts in campus practices reflect an institutional commitment to transforming student employment from something menial to meaningful.

Creating a new vision and supportive culture around student employment is a focus for many institutions. Interview data indicate both a bottom-up and top-down desire to provide student employees with a “real world” employment experience that aligns with academic studies, supports future career goals, and builds job-ready skills. Buy-in from leadership has resulted in greater campus investment to support student employment. One area of investment, for example, is the dedication of more staff and resources to offer student employee professional development programming.

Professional development opportunities and workshops often hone in on student employee growth areas like professionalism in the workplace, applicable human resources policies, customer service skills, working in diverse environments, and leadership development skills. Valencia College offers an extensive leadership series for approximately 90 students employed in select departments under student affairs, including groups like financial learning ambassadors, new student orientation, wellness ambassadors, and more. Student employees participating in the Valencia LIVE (Leadership equals Integrity, Values, and Experience) program attend several Leadership Academy sessions, an Emerging Leaders Conference, and a leadership symposium to help develop communication, collaboration, and interpersonal skills applicable in both academic and workplace environments.

What’s Next: National Survey

While findings from campus interviews and site visits have informed our base understanding of the current state of student employment, we look forward to furthering our understanding of the topic with the deployment of our national survey.

The On-Campus Student Employment National Survey intends to uncover the:

  • Range of on-campus student employment facts and figures by institutional type and sector;
  • Variance in which best and promising practices are being implemented campus wide;
  • Shared management responsibilities;
  • Extent of data used to measure employment impact on various student success measures; and
  • Barriers to administering, sustaining, and improving student employment.

The survey will be sent to institutions by way of the chief student affairs officer (CSAO). We are asking the CSAO to pull together a cross-campus team with members who are best positioned to answer the questions set forth in the survey.

If you have any questions or want to stay informed about our student employment research, please contact Alexa Wesley at [email protected], for more information.