Education Executive's Update
Making the Most of Student Employees
- By Mark Rowh
- May 1st, 2016
Take a stroll around any college or university campus and you’re likely to encounter student employees. In all types of institutions, incorporating
students into the workforce is commonplace. About 3,400 postsecondary schools
employ students through federal work-study funds, according to the U.S. Department
of Education. Add to that students paid with institutional funds or from other sources, and the scope
of student employment broadens appreciably.
Certainly the practice mirrors overall student behavior
when it comes to combining working with studying. The
National Center for Education Statistics notes that for the most
recent reporting period, approximately 40 percent of full-time
college students 16 to 24 years old, and 76 percent of part-time
students in the same age group, were employed. And a recent
study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and
the Workforce found that over the past 25 years, more than 70
percent of college students have worked while attending college.
One viewpoint is that if students are going to work, why
not keep them on campus, or at least under the institution’s
umbrella? The readiness of students to work, whether due to
preference or necessity, can help meet needs for part-timers to
fulfill a variety of support functions.
In any case the benefits of student employment programs
should not be overlooked, says Dr. Chester Goad, director of
disability services at Tennessee Technological University in
“Some might view providing students with jobs as a favor,
but that could not be further from the truth,” he says. “It’s a symbiotic
relationship, and the truth is university staff and administrators
rely heavily on student workers to complete everyday
tasks and accomplish our mission.” He notes that students meet
their goal of earning some money, and the school benefits from
workers who benefit from the opportunity and the convenience.
Nora Huth, student employment coordinator in the Office
of Student Financial Planning at Stetson University in
DeLand, FL, says that such programs strengthen connections
and help advance the institution.
“Many students facilitate projects within their student
positions that benefit other students and the university as a
whole,” she says. “Since our students are part of our community,
they understand the needs and are always looking to
make an impact.”
Huth says that student employees embody the institution’s
motto of “dare to be significant.” At the same time, the work
experience they gain can be invaluable. Among other benefits,
supervisors provide evaluations each semester that students
are encouraged to use when seeking internships or employment
outside for the university.
“Often this is the student’s first job, and it’s ideal to have
supportive supervisors looking out for the best interest of the
student,” she says.
Of course along with its pluses, student employment
brings its own set of challenges. Not only are the faces constantly
changing, but college students have other priorities
which may supersede devotion to their jobs. And personnel
to whom they are assigned may not have experience in
ESTABLISH EXPECTATIONS, BUT BE FLEXIBLE
Goad says a key in employing student workers is making sure
everyone is on the same page when it comes to expectations.
“We require students to attend an orientation to our office
policies and procedures, and that’s where we cover contract
information, confidentiality, the organizational chart and
simple protocol,” he says.
He also advises focusing on flexibility.
“We very much appreciate that students require us to be
flexible, but we’ve learned that student workers are pretty
flexible in helping us out as well,” Goad says. “We’ve found
that retaining great student workers throughout their college
experience is the best-case scenario for consistency and is
a win-win. They gain valuable experiences and references,
while we enjoy more consistency in service to students and
the campus at large.” He adds that some student workers
end up as graduate assistants or full-time employees of the
university, another benefit to both parties.
Huth stresses the importance of good communication
supported by technology. “Good communication has been
extremely important between supervisors and our office,”
she says. Her department has created standard emails to keep
students and supervisors apprised of each step of the hiring
process, and most steps in the hiring process have been
automated. While students still need to complete the I-9 and
original W-4 in person, other forms are available online.
Understanding generational differences is also important,
“As millennials, they need to feel a part of the team and
fully understand their utility in their position to work at their
highest level,” she says. “We hold monthly supervisor development
sessions to assist in facilitating the best experience
for the students in our program.”
TRAIN THE SUPERVISORS
At its best, a student employment program can transform
both students and supervisors according to Amy Bravo,
assistant dean of career services at New York Institute of
Technology in New York City. That’s the impetus for a number
of changes now under way, including a new training program
for the institution’s 90+ campus supervisors. Training
topics include completing employment paperwork, writing
job descriptions that develop students’ skills, and effectively
supervising student workers.
“Many people who serve as student employee supervisors
do not supervise staff and have never been trained as
supervisors,” she says. “This training can help them advance
Another move is shifting responsibilities for support functions
to trained professionals.
“Over time, our office became the clearinghouse for all
time-sheet, payroll and financial aid questions,” she says.
“We are now working more closely and intentionally with our
partners in these areas to provide their immediate expertise
on related issues.”
Staff are also creating an online repository for on-campus
employment information so students will no longer need to
walk to a variety of offices for the forms and information they
need. Access to the site will also make it easier for other offices
and programs to obtain relevant information.
The office has also initiated a marketing campaign to
encourage qualifying work-study students to participate in
community service internships.
“This rebranding is being done in an effort to increase our
students’ participation in off-campus positions,” Bravo says.
“These positions are paid more than on-campus positions
and help us reach our annual goals.”
Efforts are also under way to expand visibility for the
program and its positive impact.
“We just celebrated National Student Employment Week,
which was significantly ramped up this year,” Bravo says. “We’re
still receiving feedback from faculty and staff who never knew
we had as many student workers doing such high-level work.”
Even if not quite transformational, student employment
clearly offers much to many. With up-to-date process management,
effective support for supervisors and good communication,
it can be of substantial benefit to all concerned.
- The National Student Employment Association
serves professionals involved with programs for
college student employment. Its services include
publications, research and professional development
opportunities. For more details: www.nsea.info.
- The University of Minnesota offers a variety of
helpful tips at its “Working With Student Employees”
site. Topics include hiring, deciding student job
classifications, supervising and evaluating student
workers, and more. Check it out at www1.umn.edu.
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.