Work study a flexible work option for college students
Aslyn Pry is a freshman at Butler County Community College, where she plays basketball and volleyball on the side.
She lives about a half hour’s drive away from BC3’s main campus in Butler Township, so her weekday schedule is normally packed with college obligations.
Before she started her first semester, Pry’s basketball coach alerted her to a work study opportunity in the office of Student Life. Pry now works up to 20 hours a week in the office, but her shift hours can vary depending on the day.
“I play volleyball and basketball, so I'm really busy and I don't have time to work another job,” Pry said. “I go to class, work for a little bit and then go to practice and then go home.”
According to Julianne Louttit, director of financial aid at BC3, the college had about 20 work study students in the fall 2021 semester. She said the work study program is now called student employment at BC3.
The number of on-campus student employees is lower now than in year’s prior to the coronavirus pandemic. However, Louttit said students still pursue on-campus student employment opportunities not only because of the allotted flexibility, but for the experience that comes from working in a college department.
“Pretty much every department has student positions, it's just a matter of finding students to work,” Louttit said. “(Students) can tell us what their interests are, they go through an interview process and if their supervisor is interested we can start a contract.”
Louttit said student employment contracts run one semester at a time, but many students continue to work in the same office for their entire academic career at BC3. The school has federal work study funding, so BC3 pays all student employees $9.50 per hour, and they can work up to 20 hours based on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) information.
Meanwhile, Slippery Rock University operates its work study program on a similar basis, but it had about 1,200 student workers in the fall semester, according to Margie Riddell, the university’s payroll manager. The work study program at Slippery Rock University does not include graduate assistants, which is another level of on-campus employment.
Riddell said the administrators leading student workers understand that a student’s academic career is their top focus, but student employment can be rewarding in ways besides the flexible hours to make money.
“We are really trying to create a culture of student employment as a high impact practice,” Riddell said. “There is research that it helps students succeed when they are more informed. They get transferable skills.”
In December, the university board of governor’s voted to raise the student employment pay rate to $8.50 an hour. In January, the pay rate was bumped up to $10 an hour.
Beginning in March of next year, students doing advanced, skilled work can receive up to $11 an hour when working for the university on its newly approved tiered pay scale. Riddell said this pay scale is in the works.
Lauren Scott is a senior management major from Butler who splits her student employment time between SRU's Payroll and Student Employment Office and its Human Resources Office, for a total of about 12 hours per week. She said as a management major with a concentration in human resources, she works these two on-campus jobs mainly for the experience.
“I have gained so many skills there,” Scott said. “You get the hands-on experience and I think it's a good experience and a good environment to work in.”
According to Riddell, the department leaders who oversee work study students are able to work with students to get them experience they may seek through internships. But in doing campus work, students get paid and have a flexible schedule at SRU.
“The transferable skills they earn here inside the university is in your field,” Riddell said. “These departments accommodate the students and their schedules. We're not going to load them up.”
Louttit also said BC3 tries to get students into positions they want to work in on campus. Herself a former work study student during her time at La Roche College, Louttit said it provided her, and others currently in work study, with chances to work on a personal passion.
“I had a student worker that was great, and she really had a passion for food pantry,” Louttit said. “They usually stick with the same department.”
Scott said she has enjoyed her time in the university’s human resources office so much that it could be a career she pursues in the future. She said she thinks it is a better work opportunity than most other off-campus jobs.
“I just think if you compare it to any of the outside places, you can definitely gain more experience on campus,” she said, “and with the pay increase we just got it shows how much they care about student workers.”
Pry plans to work on campus until the time comes for her to move on from BC3. But she said the experience — and money — she earned through her student employment will come in handy at the next institution she attends.
“I'm majoring in physical education because I want to coach, so it's giving me good experience working in a school,” Pry said. “It's like perfect for me, actually.”