UI students with on-campus jobs found to excel more than those with off-campus or no jobs at all

Those students with on-campus jobs stay in school and graduate at higher rates than those students who choose to work off-campus.


Shuntaro Kawasaki

Adrienne Combs restocks bagels at the Food For Thought Cafe in the Learning Commons of the Main Library on Sunday, April 30, 2023.

Natalie Miller, News Reporter

A University of Iowa study found that students who choose to work on-campus jobs, rather than those who work off-campus jobs or who do not have a job, excel more in important areas.

The UI Division of Student Life employs over 2,000 students and offers jobs ranging from working in one of the dining halls to being a climbing wall attendant at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center.

Vice President for Student Life Sarah Hansen said the UI has collected data on the difference of on-campus employment versus off-campus employment for the last 15 years.

“Our data demonstrates that the students who work on campus stay in school at much higher rates and graduate at higher rates than other students … And they are also able to talk about the skills that they’re learning from employment and how those skills connect to their academics in really important ways,” Hansen said.

Most on-campus jobs do not directly correlate to what a student may be doing for employment post-graduation, but on-campus jobs operate more as a learning experience. Hansen said the Division of Student Life focuses on creating engagement in student employment as a learning opportunity.

“Even though we have a whole range of jobs, we’ve been able to help students understand what they’re learning, those kind of broad transferable skills that employers are looking for,” she said.

Hansen said she recognizes that many off-campus jobs offer higher wages, but the on-campus jobs give students flexibility around their classes and other various activities.

“The Division of Student Life, we’ve raised a lot of our wages in especially areas that are higher need, like university dining, which has had a really hard time,” Hansen said. “And, so yes, the wages can be higher off-campus, but what we hear from students who work on-campus is that the campus sites are much more understanding of their lives as a student.”

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Josh Frahm, Pomerantz Career Center senior associate director of student employment programs, said the UI tracked student employment data since 2005 that shows students who work on campus had a 5 percent higher graduation rate.

Frahm said the biggest difference between on-campus and off-campus employment is the flexibility.

“Most of the local businesses that will hire students understand that they are students, but at the same time, they have a business to run, so you know, that flexibility of the university jobs is a huge advantage,” he said.

Additionally, Frahm said having an on-campus job is great to make social connections.

“… Especially for freshmen incoming, and it can be really crucial from a social development aspect and just a connection to the university and support systems for them on campus that can help them with their transition to college,” Frahm said.

UI first-year student Elsa Petersen has worked at the Food for Thought Cafe in the Main Library since the beginning of the spring semester. She said she chose to pursue an on-campus job rather than an off-campus job to have flexibility with her class schedule, and the job is more student-focused.

“I really wanted to be able to have the flexibility of an on-campus job because they’re really good about making sure you have the right amount of hours that works for your schedule,” Petersen said.

Petersen said having an on-campus job allows more engagement with the UI community and it has made her into a better student and a more focused person.

“I think that when I didn’t have a job last semester, I had a lot of extra time where I could just do whatever I wanted, but now that I have a job, I know that I have more limited time, so I have to be more focused during those hours,” she said.