SALT LAKE CITY — A recent study of Utah college students found that students who don’t work all year have higher GPAs than those who do work year-round.
The study, conducted by Utah Data Research Center, examined the effect of working on the academic performance of students pursuing bachelor’s degrees at Utah’s public institutions from 2012–2016, including Weber State, Utah State, University of Utah, Utah Valley University, Southern Utah University and Dixie State University.
The study defined a working student as one who worked all four quarters of the year.
Researchers found that working year-round had a statistically significant negative impact on GPA, retention, graduation and the number of credits students took compared to those who were not working.
“Dividing time between work and education can have negative effects on a student’s quality of sleep, relationships with supervisors and can put a strain on social and family ties,” the study says.
The difference in GPA between working and non-working students was true for people in both age groups studied, ages 17–29 and ages 30–54.
It was also true for all public institutions in the state, though the GPA differences between non-working and working students varied by institution.
According to the study, Weber State had the highest rate of working students in both age groups of all public universities in the state, with 54% of students working throughout the year. It also had the largest group of students in the older age group.
Weber State was trailed closely by Utah Valley University, where 53% of students were considered working, and Dixie State, where 52% of students were considered working.
The rate of working students at Weber State is a full 20% above its northern neighbor, Utah State, where 34% of students worked year-round.
At University of Utah, 43% of students worked year-round, close to the state’s average of 45%.
Latino students worked at the highest rate of all the racial groups, with 48% of Latino students working. White students worked at a similar rate, with 47%.
According to reporting in the Standard-Examiner from 2018, Hispanic or Latino students were the largest minority group at Weber State, making up 11% of the student population.
Weber State and Utah Valley University were similar on other measures.
The two schools both had the lowest average GPA of institutions across the state and the highest rate of part-time attendance.
They also had the lowest retention rates for the working student population, at 66% for Weber State and 65% for Utah Valley University.
University of Utah had the highest retention rates — 92% for non-working students and and 86% for working students. Utah State’s retention rates were also quite high, at 90% for non-working students and 81% for working students.
“Many of our students are first-generation and arrive without fully understanding the demands and expectations of the college,” said Allison Hess, director of public relations for Weber State, in an email. “Weber State is working very hard to help students succeed at higher education. We have begun a campus-wide Student Success Initiative with many components that helps students at every level — from advising, to mentoring to peer support. We have a new program called Starfish that closely tracks student progress and alerts advisors and faculty members to problems that need to be immediately addressed.”
Weber State opened support services for two weekends this fall semester to make it easier for working students to access them, Hess said.
The university also has a Nontraditional Student Center, which supports students who are balancing their academics with work and family responsibilities. The center includes a drop-in daycare, Hess said.
Weber State and Utah Valley had similar retention rates for non-working students, at 74% and 71%, respectively.
Utah Valley University had the largest difference in GPA between students who were working (2.79) and those who were not (3.07).
At Weber State, the average GPA among working students was 2.87 compared to 2.97 for students who were not working.
The impact of working on academic performance significant, the study says, because the number of students who work is increasing with the rise in the cost of college. College students are also working for more of the year than students have in the past.
The study controlled for other factors, including race, ethnicity, gender, Pell eligibility (use as a proxy for economic need) and age. Interactive infographics and the complete study are available at udrc.utah.gov/workingstudents.