Hiring freeze, economy affect working students

Students aim to balance working both in the classroom and on the job.
Senior Heather McGuire looks up the stock on an item while working a shift Monday at Best Buy. McGuire is a photojournalism major who also is involved in a work-study program at MU.

For some students, getting up early and getting dressed in more than just a pair of sweats is a reality even before they have received a degree.

With the cost of a college education increasingly on the rise, many MU students rely on part-time jobs during school to pay the bills or to make extra spending money. But the slumping economy and the UM system hiring freeze could make it more difficult for those students to find jobs flexible enough to meet their academic needs.

For Rafael Fisher, a freshman medical professions major, that flexibility comes from a job in an academic department that values academic performance. Fisher, an office assistant for Academic Retention Services, said his supervisors want to make sure he is succeeding in the classroom first before he's behind the desk.

"They say you're a student first, so if you have a lot of work to do, they will try to work with your schedule and they'll let you get your work done," Fisher said. "They're there to help us, and the main goal is to keep us in college."

Along with the emphasis on academic flexibility, Fisher said his job gives him the extra benefit of being around campus staff. This close relationship helps him with more than just work-related problems. Fisher said having access to people whose job is to help students adjust to the challenges of college life has benefited him during his first semester.

"They're here to help us and try to guide us in the right direction," Fisher said. "They make sure you're on top of things and if you're not, they'll help you get on track any way they can."

Adia German is a freshman journalism major and an assistant at the Language Resource Laboratory. She said that while her employers are flexible with regard to her academic needs, she has also learned time management skills to fulfill both her commitments to school and work, because the two areas depend on each other. 

"I've never been really good at managing time, but when you are forced to make time for two things that are imperative to your education you learn to balance," German said. "I have to work to pay for my tuition, and I have to get my work done to stay in the J school. I have plenty of time for both so I just make sure I get what I need to do done."

Blake Danuser, UM system associate vice president for employee relations, said the system human resources department does not require campus employers to set workable hours for students through any kind of regulation. He said most employers know when a job is appropriate for students.

"We don't have any specific policies on it," Danuser said. "I think it's up to each department to decide for what jobs to hire students and how to set hours around their schedules."

But the availability of flexible jobs like these could be short-lived. In a Nov. 17 letter to faculty, UM system President Gary Forsee announced that the hiring process for all open positions in the system would be frozen in light of the national economy. The letter did not set an end date for the freeze.

"I have instituted a hiring freeze on administrative, staff and faculty positions effective immediately. Beginning today, searches currently underway and open positions will be frozen," Forsee said in the letter. "This action will provide us with the optimal flexibility to plan while ensuring that our mission as a university is viewed as part of the solution, not just a cost to the citizens of our state."

MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said in a Nov. 18 press conference that all student jobs would be affected by the freeze, except positions funded by grants or student fees. This includes work-study programs or jobs with the Missouri Students Association.

On Nov. 25, Deaton modified the terms of the freeze to allow exemptions for some positions that are critical to the university. Deaton also said some student positions, like dining hall staff positions, would be able to hire enough employees to maintain. These departments would have to seek an expansion, however, if they want to increase the number as the university grows.

Fewer available student jobs could have painful consequences for students who hoped to secure jobs after using the fall semester to become academically established, like pre-journalism major Mystle Schellhorn. Schellhorn said she was planning to work off-campus already, but that she said that because of the hiring freeze, it could be harder to find a job that doesn't require her to drive a long distance from her dorm.

"I had been thinking about maybe working Summer Welcome to earn extra money without driving too much in the summer," Schellhorn said. "But I guess that's not an option now."

With many on-campus opportunities on hold, students like Schellhorn are turning their attention off-campus to stores downtown or at the Columbia Mall. Heather McGuire, a senior photojournalism major who is in the work-study program and works nights at Best Buy, said she likes having two jobs because it allows her to make the money she needs to pay her tuition while also having time to keep up with her studies.

"I've always held two jobs and I'm used to it," McGuire said. "The reason I like two jobs is that it makes my schedule more flexible. One job can give you certain hours during the day where the other job couldn't provide."

With the recent downturn in the broader economy, outside of campus and across the nation, even off-campus work might not offer relief for financially strapped students. Employers are cutting jobs to make a profit as prices fall, compounding a decline in teen employment at entry-level jobs.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says the ratio of 16- to 19-year-olds employed in jobs that are part of the youth labor market has fallen to less than 45 percent, the lowest number since the agency began tracking it in 1948.

McGuire, who received a $1,800 grant from the work-study program this year, said the award did not pay for all of her bills, but she stayed in the program for the money. The program provided her with experience working around faculty and staff at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. McGuire, who plans to graduate at the end of this semester, said she has been asked to stay on after she graduates as a staff member for the institute's Pictures of the Year exhibit.

"I would say that work-study has not just been a job for me," McGuire said. "It's been an opportunity to know the department and what we do there a little bit better. I would've never been able to do that without the work-study program."

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