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Full-time College Students Who Work Part-time Reap Better Grades and Graduate with Less Debt

By Michael Schneider, President
McPherson College



Siblings Kendyl and Nathan Saffer are planning to graduate debt-free through the college’s Student Debt Project.

Working part-time while taking a full-time course load is a reality for many college students. For some, it’s a financial necessity, but many parents and students still struggle with one major concern: How many hours can a student really work without affecting their grades or disrupting the college experience?

The fact is full-time college students who hold down part-time jobs see many benefits during and after college. McPherson College’s Student Debt Project provides students an opportunity to balance college with work through mentoring, job and paid internship placement, financial literacy training like budgeting and time management as well as incentives for paying down debt.

And there is one bonus—data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that students who work 10 to 15 hours per week while taking a full class load have stronger grades than those who don’t work at all. Students who have jobs are forced to develop better self-discipline and life skills. This evidence holds true for the 270 McPherson College students in our Student Debt Project who work an average of 15 hours per week and carry a 3.3 GPA compared to the 3.1 GPA of the rest of our student body.

In the Student Debt Project, McPherson College matches 25 cents for every dollar a student earns and applies toward their student debt. For the 2021-2022 academic year, our matching contributions are expected to exceed $250,000. The impact of the Student Debt Project is remarkable as participants have 50% less debt than the national average.

Nearly 85% of McPherson College students are working a job or paid internship – that’s twice the national average among college students and about 30% higher than Kansas college students overall according to the National Center for Education Statistics. We have more than 500 jobs and internships available on our campus and hundreds more off campus in the local community during the school year and across the country during the summer months. We’ve found that this additional, interactive engagement with faculty, staff and employers– whether within their academic field or not – gives our students more opportunity to apply classroom concepts to real world situations and students in the Debt Project are using dollars earned to graduate with little to no debt.

Nathan Saffer is a junior majoring in biochemistry. Sister Kendyl Saffer is a freshman in health science. They grew up on a ranch in Arriba, Colorado and both began raising their own cattle as youngsters, saving the profits for college. Both are now paying for college with those ranching profits, plus scholarships and the Student Debt Project. They have part-time jobs during the school year and work their herd during summers and school breaks. Using their cattle money to apply to each semester’s student debt, Nathan has been debt free each year. Kendyl is also planning to graduate debt free.

According to their father, Kevin Saffer, “the flexibility in the Student Debt Project is outstanding because it speaks to both sides of business. The kids have part-time jobs while they’re in school, giving them an understanding of working as an employee. And the project encourages their efforts as entrepreneurs. The Student Debt Project lets them see the business world from both sides.”

Students in the Debt Project have already proven that holding down a college job is far more than a means to reducing their student debt. It’s also an invaluable way to enhance their intellectual capital by enriching their human capital – allowing them to acquire skills and social networks that will set them apart from peers with only academic credentials on their resumes.

Having the grit to navigate life while juggling personal finances, family commitments and work is a rite of passage from youthful dependence to adult independence. Ultimately, once students embrace the balancing act through the Student Debt Project at McPherson College, they’ve opened the door to financial freedom and unlimited possibilities for the rest of their lives.