4 actions to elevate the impact of on-campus student employment programs
Given college affordability concerns, federal work-study programs and institutionally funded campus-based employment for students are more important than ever—but institutions might not be maximizing their potential.
On-campus employment “touches virtually all areas of a campus,” says Alexa Wesley, research and policy associate at NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. “Institutions can add on-campus employment to their toolbox of low-cost, high-impact student success strategies.”
A 2019 NASPA report on student employment included several recommendations to help elevate the impact of higher ed institutions’ on-campus work opportunities, including:
1. Create a hiring system that reflects what students may expect from future professional work opportunities.
Career readiness starts long before students work their first shifts. For all open work-study positions, institutions such as Alamance Community College in North Carolina, Mesa Community College in Arizona and Maryville University in Missouri require résumés and interviews.
At Stony Brook University in New York, Director of Entrepreneurial Education Urszula Zalewski requires staff to created detailed job descriptions for all work-study positions, explaining, “We want students to know what skills they will learn on the job, and we teach them to use those job descriptions as the basis for their résumés.”
2. Make retention and learning a goal of student employment opportunities.
Less than one-third of student affairs leaders surveyed by NASPA cited retention as a goal of their student employment program. Report co-author Omari Burnside, assistant vice president for strategy and practice, believes this is a mistake.
“Formally acknowledging student employment as another way to support retention and to facilitate learning,” he says, is a first step, and investment should follow.
3. Provide student employees with professional development opportunities.
At Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, students work as emergency medical technicians and dispatchers, responding to on-campus emergencies. The hands-on experiences, according to John Bera, director of campus safety, help students get jobs and make them more attractive candidates for advanced degrees in fields such as medicine.
4. Help student employees document and evaluate their on-campus work experiences.
Although students in the work-study program at Stony Brook don’t receive formal performance reviews, supervisors use Guided Reflection on Work (known as GROW) to have structured conversations that help students understand the connections between their work experiences and classroom lessons.
When it comes to best practices for work-study programs, Burnside says: “Many institutions are doing great work. But it’s important for institutions to take stock of the most promising student employment practices and to identify and promote scalable practices to enhance the employment experience for all student workers.”