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College kids trading in beer bongs for time sheets13 Jan 2009 09:10 am

college.jpgYou know the economy is in trouble when more and more college kids are taking on part-time gigs.

Did you work when you were in college? I didn’t my first year but the honeymoon was over during second semester. My parents expected me to pick up the tab for some of the fun college toys…gas, beer, etc. I worked at apparel store named Syms on Long Island, and I also worked for a weekly newspaper in Manhattan in the evenings.

Looking back, it was a great experience for me because I seemed to take my studies a bit more seriously seeing the real work world outside academia. I knew I needed a good education if I was going to end up doing what I love, journalism.

More and more under 20 year-olds don’t work in this country, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. But it seems the troubled economy is pushing many college kids into jobs whether they like it or not. The parent gravy train is slowing down.

My intern took a look at the phenomenon on her campus and offers us some perspective on what’s going on.

By Katherine Guiney

While the recession is impacting parents first and foremost, their college-age students are not being left unscathed. Some may think of college as all play and very little work, but that concept, if ever present, just went out the window.

“I have skipped classes in order to do work for other classes before,” says Jennifer Eichholz, a senior at the University of Delaware who works approximately 40 hours per week at Bath and Body Works in Concord Mall and is finding it hard to balance real work and school work.

The Wall Street Journal recently featured an article, A Hard Lesson in Economics; Painful Choices as College Bills Wallop Families, about how the recession is impacting the worry-free life that college students live.

“Many students are already making painful adjustments, including dropping out, borrowing more to stay in school, transferring to cheaper schools or taking on part-time jobs.” - WSJ

As of November, 50.2 percent of full-time college students worked either part-time or full-time jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says.

Having a job when you’re a college student is a great way to make money, but it’s a balancing act. Get ready for some sleep-deprivation.

Eichholz worked at the bath products store for just over three years and moved back home to Wilmington after her junior year in order to save money. Now she can add driving to and from campus to the list of things she has to do.

To keep the list from getting too long and to maintain her 3.5 grade point average, she takes full advantage of any downtime she can find.

“I took a class where I had to read a book a week,” Eichholz says. “I bring the book to work, so that when I have my half hour lunch break I read.”

Jessica Murtha, a sophomore at Delaware who also works at Bath and Body Works in Concord Mall, says she has seen Eichholz reading on more than one, two or even three occasions.

“When she’s on her lunch break, she’s always reading,” Murtha says.

Until recently, Murtha herself worked three jobs, but has since cut back to only babysitting and her Bath and Body Works position.

“Me and her, we were living on energy drinks earlier this year, in September and October,” she says.

Both Murtha and Eichholz cite money as the reason for working during the school year.

“I know I’m going to have all this school debt when I graduate,” Eichholz said. “And with bills in general.”

On a recent rainy Monday, Dec. 1, after an 8 a.m. departure from home for class, three hours of listening to professors, the drive back home into Wilmington and the accomplishment of some homework, Eichholz worked a seven hour shift and did some more homework. And she still says this day was calmer than most.

“Normally, I have to be at work by 1:30, so I just head from school to work,” she says. “But that day I had a 4 o’clock start, so it was nice because I had time for homework.”

It may sound like it sucks for these kids, but it may be a blessing in disguise.

I’ve written extensively about how important it is for an individual’s personal and career development if they work when they’re younger.

A study done by Jeylan Mortimer, professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, found that students who worked built more confidence and responsibility than kids who didn’t.

And almost every CEO I interviewed for my book, “From the Sandbox to the Corner Office,” said job experiences in their youth, especially during their teens, helped frame their outlook on work.

Tim Ryan washed dishes at a restaurant when he was in his teens.

An excerpt from my book:

It all started when an older kid in Ryan’s working class neighborhood in Pittsburgh wanted to go to a Pittsburg Pirates game but couldn’t go until he found a replacement for his dishwashing job at a local upscale Italian restaurant called Nino’s. Ryan decided to help the guy out, hoping to gain some “peer status”, so he volunteered to take the Friday night shift even though he was nervous about whether he’d know what to do.

The food services industry was the farthest thing from his career ambitions. At that point, young Ryan had visions of someday becoming a lawyer, having watched Perry Mason on television. And frankly, he did not even like food that much. He was a terribly picky eater, one of those kids, he says, that didn’t want different foods on his place to touch. And he hated gravy or anything that he could not readily be identified on his plate.

Despite his food aversions, he fell head over heels for the frenetic restaurant environment when he first laid eyes on Nino’s kitchen. “I just loved it. I remember how dynamic the kitchen was. Here was this ballet going on in front of me. It was controlled chaos. I had never seen chefs perform before in these white coats, flames going, knives flying. These are the kinds of things 13 years old boys are attracted to,” he recalls, with fascination still lingering in his voice from teen hood.

Ryan is now the president of the Culinary Institute of America.

So guys, don’t bitch too much about having to balance books and some grunt job. It may pay off in the end.

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