Assessing the Impact of Student Work During College

The majority of today’s undergraduates work for pay while enrolled in college. Prior research suggests that undergraduates employed during term time are less likely to graduate. Until relatively recently, data limitations have generally precluded assessment of labor force and earnings outcomes for working college students. Using transcript data from a large multi-campus university, combined with student earnings data, we find that traditional-age students who worked for pay during college on average earned more after leaving college than similar students who did not work. This post-college earnings premium is on par with the benefit from completing a degree, even after controlling for demographic and academic achievement characteristics, and across various student sub-groups. These findings are also robust to model specifications that account for selection bias. We consider the implications of these findings for educational policy.


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