Studying and Working

We create false dichotomies. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece,” from the Book of Proverbs. At 14 years old in 1964, I heard, “Idle hands do the work of the devil,” while working to reset jumps at a horse show and unquestioningly doing as I was told. This utterance to an old man, I think he was 20 but that seemed old and worldly to me at the time, who was smoking a cigarette.

I carried the nobility of working, thinking and learning with me from that day forward. I can still see the stables in Long Island, behind Mrs. Sachie’s silhouette. I remember her proclamation for its sincerity and wisdom. I knew her neither before nor since.

Studies abound that extol the virtues of modest working commitments for college students. Every one of them misses the point. We do not work so we can go to school to learn. Rather, we work to learn and we study to become skilled at learning. Each provides operational and intellectual skills that have value in any setting if we but listen and look.

Work is not an interruption of study, but an extension of it. Internships are important to this principle. When studying architecture, the value of working in an architect’s office to see how things are done is nearly incalculable. However, tending bar or waiting tables has high value, too. Each complements the other…nothing gets in the way except through false dichotomies.

Students themselves often identify the benefits of working while they are in college. The short list, surprising to no one, includes not only experience but also a reduction in college debt, increased cash flow, acquisition of money management and time management skills. All of these provide advantages when seeking employment upon completing college. Students also see benefits in jobs that do not require advanced education — babysitting, barista, and retail sales, for example.

Of course, the current tragedy is that only in the rarest cases will students be able to pay the whole tab from working while they study, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Additionally, some groups of students experience disadvantage by working too much while going to school, according to the Chicago Tribune. African-American and Hispanic students, who are fearful of loans, frequently work more than they should and experience adverse impacts on academic performance. The negative impacts of over-working while going to college are easily summarized: lower academic performance, non-eliminated college debt, lower retention and completion rates (no doubt, due to fatigue and burnout) and frustration. Working between 15-20 hours per week has a positive impact on social behavior, academic performance and the reduction of costs for attending college. Invariably, when students do not work at all, important aspects of college life wane.

With a structured approach to work and study, where the two are complementary, many of the adverse impacts diminish. Work is an extension of education, rather than solely a means to get an education. Even flipping hamburgers can produce benefits for a future brain surgeon or rocket scientist. For example, earning the means to help meet daily needs, demonstrating creativity, developing a sense of satisfaction, relating to others, realizing the power of purpose and responsibility and working in a team environment have real value. Moreover, all of these capabilities are necessary without exception at McDonald’s, MD Anderson and Boeing.

There are persuasive long-term benefits to internship involvement while attending college. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports 60% of college graduates who participated in internships received a job offer. Not a job application, but an offer of employment. Moreover, 80% of employers claim their internship programs are not a public service, but an effort to recruit the best and brightest. Benefits of working while studying apply to both senior and community colleges.

Responsive universities in the 21st century encourage students to work because work informs study and that mindset empowers economic development and personal satisfaction. Hard work is frequently dismissed. People who work diligently are labeled “workaholics,” equating industriousness with a medical condition. A course on the value and benefits of work would likely be futile. Courses in American History and political science are required, yet distinguishing between the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution or the three branches of government are fools’ errands in the minds of too many graduates.

Universities could help students by diminishing distinctions regarding work and study. Correctly approached, both provide benefits regardless of field of study or the nature of the work.

Study and work are hand in glove.

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