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How balancing work and school affects future study

How balancing work and school affects future study

Every year, thousands of high school students take on part-time work while studying. A report issued by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research tracks how these students managed to balance work and school and whether part-time work had any effect on their future education prospects.

It’s a rite of passage for some: the after-school job and the tiny pay packet that means the difference between pulling on purse strings and the beginnings of financial independence. Students who undertake part-time work were the focus of a study by researchers from the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling at the University of Canberra, who looked at how this balancing act affected students’ ability to take on further study at university.

‘Does part-time work at school impact on going to university?’ provides an in-depth understanding of how high school students combine study and work and how this influences both their intention to enrol in university and their actual university enrolment. The researchers used the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) survey to find out whether those students who are more or less likely to combine study and work are also intrinsically more or less likely to progress to university.

Intention versus ability

In the report, 56% of Year 12 students worked, or had had some sort of job, though the students entered and exited the workforce as circumstances changed. Working while finishing high school did not affect a student’s intention to go to university but working too much seemed to affect whether or not they were able to. “We found that those who worked intensively in Year 12 reduced their chance of securing a university position by approximately 11 and 21 percentage points, for boys and girls, respectively,” wrote the researchers.

On a more moderate scale, boys who worked a few hours while studying increased their chance of enrolling in university by more than 5%, though for girls moderate work did not have much of an effect either way.

The factor that had the greatest influence on a student’s intention to enter higher education was not work, however, but peers, and they also affected the likelihood of the students enrolling. “Gender, type of school, ability, geographic location and socioeconomic background significantly affect both the intention for and actual enrolment in university,” according to the report.

How important is the balance?

For a small proportion of students, part-time work was an essential contribution to household income and as such, often influenced the number of hours of paid work they undertook. In this case, socioeconomic status had a greater effect on a student’s decision and ability to go into higher education, due to inherent disadvantages for students of lower socioeconomic status as well as too many hours at work having a negative effect on whether the student enrolled in university.

To me, this balance is less about work and school than it is about current need and future need. If the current need to supplement household income surpasses a future need for the student to go on to higher education (should s/he wish to) then financial pressure has an undue influence on the student’s choice.

It can also continue a cycle whereby those who do not go on to university do not attain higher paid jobs, which may lead to their children having to work long hours while completing school and also choosing not to go to, or not being able to enrol into, university.

Part-time work has many benefits for high school students. In addition to providing them with a little financial independence, it also allows them to experience a workplace for the first time and teaches them how to manage their time between study and paid work. When out of balance, however, it does have an impact on a student’s performance and may affect future academic opportunities.

Download ‘Does part-time work at school impact on going to university?’ by Xiaodong Gong, Rebecca Cassells and Alan Duncan

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