As a young man growing up in North Carolina, the only pre-college job I had was as a substitute newspaper boy. I don’t remember the kids in my neighborhood having many jobs when we were growing up. Being a newspaper boy was the extent of employment opportunities for us during that time. I’m not completely sure why many of us didn’t have jobs while we were in high school. It could have been that our parents wanted us to concentrate solely on our studies. Maybe our parents figured we would have the rest of our lives to work.
When I enrolled in college, I had a work-study position in the gymnasium. This work-study position was part of my athletic scholarship package. The money that I received went directly to my college bill, so, technically, I was working and going to school. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that in life there are different levels of work.
My first real experience of going to school and working in the real world was when I was employed by the city of Winston-Salem and took a summer course at Winston-Salem Teachers College, now State University. I was fortunate enough to do both, so time management was critical. I knew that I wanted to make some money, but I also knew I needed to pass that sociology course. That course would be one less that I would have to take during the regular school year.
These days, there are a lot of students who work and attend high school. Doing both at what I believe is a tender age requires dedication and discipline. We all know that it is far easier for students to go home, get their homework done and watch television. In addition, today you find a good number of students who work and contribute to their family’s income. Fast food restaurants are filled with young people who work after school and don’t get home until after midnight. In the meantime, they must make time for homework, special projects and extracurricular activities. Many companies are providing high school students with scholarships and other incentives to remain with them. That just didn’t happen during my day!
The term nontraditional student has been in the higher education lexicon for many years now. However, it appears that the number of nontraditional students has increased dramatically. Various higher education reports suggest that even first-year students are entering college already with jobs or seeking them within their first year. Certainly, the economy and the increased cost of college are contributing factors to the surge in college students who are working. The numbers grow even stronger as students in their junior and senior years of college continue to work at the same time. I was talking with my son, Chris, who is attending college and working, and he said many of the students in his classes are doing the same thing. He said he believes that teachers understand a lot of their students work and they try to help them as much as possible. Companies that employ college students may turn their work experience into an internship or a cooperative education experience.
Going to school and working will be with us for years to come. I don’t see a time when we will go back to the “old school,” as students, colleges and companies will have to continue to adjust. Colleges are flexing their academic muscles as they are offering a wider variety of courses and teachers are becoming more accessible. Student schedules are becoming more flexible with more classes being offered at night and on the weekends. This is, of course, coupled with online learning. The future may see companies becoming a part of these student-centered programs. This new normal is requiring that students have multiple skill sets and be able to articulate effectively at both school and work. This is an exciting time for students as they are taking on new challenges and opportunities. The new normal is here as students attend school and work at the same time. As my son, Chris, said, “Look out, Dad. it’s a new day!”