Jobs hinder students’ success, educators warn

According to a questionnaire sent to Ontario university faculty and librarians by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, 64% of respondents believe paid work during the academic year hinders a student’s academic achievement. Respondents also cited concerns with the writing, numeracy, critical thinking, research and time management skills of incoming students.

The newest crop of students is less prepared for the rigors of university than ever before. At the same time, a growing number of students are holding down jobs to finance their education — and in doing so are hindering their academic success, a group of educators warn.

“Our students are facing huge pressures that we are not adequately addressing,” said Mark Langer, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) and a faculty member at Carleton University in Ottawa.

“We expect our students to pay for a larger share of their education, engage in more paid work, attend larger classes, have less interaction with faculty and pursue remedial courses on top of their regular studies to succeed in a demanding university curriculum. This is a recipe for disaster.”

The average Ontario undergraduate tuition bill is $6,307 — almost $1,200 more than the national average of $5,138. “Successive Ontario governments have allowed tuition fees to increase at double the rate of inflation over the past decade, while operating grants have not kept pace with expanding enrolments,” Langer says.

So what’s a working student to do? First, be realistic about how much time you need to dedicate to your studies, advises Reed Hilton-Eddy, a learning skills strategist at Ryerson University’s learning success centre. Lectures may take up just 12 to 15 hours a week but the amount of work associated with each course will increase progressively in a semester.

“The first few weeks of a semester give many students a false sense of security,” she says. “School-work balance appears reasonable but then it starts to spiral out of control because students weren’t aware of what they should be doing in addition to the lecture time.”

If you’re struggling to balance school and work but must hold down a job, consider a reduced course load. “You’re not in a competition with the person next to you,” Hilton-Eddy says. “Everyone is running their own race and you have to go at a pace most appropriate to you and your program. Maybe you take four courses instead of five and become a 12-month student and take a course during the spring/summer semester.”

Avoiding school disasters

Reed Hilton-Eddy, a learning skills strategist at Ryerson University’s learning success centre, offers these tips:

• Orientate yourself to available school services — such learning success, writing, math and counselling centres — and how to access them. Remember, they’re there for a reason: to help you succeed. Take advantage of them as soon as you feel the need for help or are overwhelmed. Even one new tip or strategy will be beneficial.
• Manage your time over a seven or 14-day period rather than 24 hours. Block appropriate time for a task and be specific when you sit down to complete that task — know what you’re going to be doing.
•Make the most of your work sessions. If you have a lot of work, for example, complete your most difficult subjects during your peak energy times. In a long study session, try to vary tasks.
• Allocate time for sleep, exercise and friends. Dedicating yourself solely to your studies and work will create a sense of isolation.
• Do some inner reflection. Can you realistically manage work and school? Are you in the right program? If you like what you’re learning, you’re going to be more engaged.