Students face challenges of balancing work and school

Kelly Petryszyn

Working students face tight time schedules daily

About 5,000 students work at 7,000 on-campus jobs at Kent State every year, according to Career Services.

But Ami Haynes Hollis, associate director of Career Services, wrote in an e-mail that the high amount of students juggling jobs and college is not a new trend: The number has stayed consistent during the past decade.

“There have always been students who have worked and attended classes for various reasons, including earning extra money, gaining work experience, honing time management and organization skills, etc.,” she wrote.

Students who both work and take classes have to be careful not to let their grades slip, she wrote.

“It is critical that students continually work on managing their time and creating a balance between work and school,” Haynes Hollis wrote. “If not, their homework and studying get overlooked, pushed aside, and eventually their grades will reflect where their priorities are.”

Still, many Kent State students are learning how to manage life’s demands while keeping up with schoolwork and paying the bills. Two of those students shared a glimpse into their busy lives, offering insight into the modern student.

Juggling multiple roles a ‘faith project’

Luwanda Higgins dreamt of going to college and getting her degree since childhood. But she didn’t know it would take her 28 years to earn it.

She started going to college in 1980 at Indiana University, but she didn’t finish because she was busy raising her three sons with her husband and working with Christian ministries.

Twenty years later in 2000, she went back to school. Higgins enrolled at Kent State and earned her undergraduate degree in 2005 in general studies with concentrations in applied conflict management, gerontology and geology.

Currently, she is going for her master’s degree in liberal studies, with two areas of concentration, counseling and educational administration, as well as a master’s certificate in gerontology. Higgins said she is going back to school to acquire a vast range of expertise.

“I am becoming the professional I want to be,” she said.

Higgins has also been working at Kent State for 29 years as program coordinator and transitional adviser at the Adult Student Center, while maintaining her family life and community involvement.

Learning to balance all these commitments has “been a faith project,” she said. Higgins has been earning her master’s degree on a part-time basis. She takes six credit hours per semester and works 42-46 hours per week.

To master her busy schedule, she said “it’s important to compartmentalize when under pressure.”

She spends twice the amount of the time she’s in class working on homework.

“I want to do a great job,” she said, adding that success comes from “brain power, passion and persistence – you need all three.”

But Higgins said sometimes her sleep suffers as a result of putting in extensive time doing homework.

At times, her personal life has conflicted with her schedule. Higgins and her husband have been taking care of her mother and father, causing her to once drop a class because they fell ill.

When Higgins needs a break, she finds relief at the Student Recreation and Wellness Center. She tries to go three times a week.

She also gets a lot of support from her husband, the staff at the Adult Student Center, university staff members and her professors.

Higgins finds satisfaction in knowing she has “found a good balance between home, work, school and the community.”

“I realize it’s wonderful to get a degree but it’s the journey,” she said, adding she now wants to give back to students.

Despite the obstacles, Higgins said she has a passion for learning, especially in her favorite subject areas.

“I look at the classes and I’m so excited – like a kid in the candy store,” she said.

When Higgins walks across the stage Dec. 13 and receives her diploma, 28 years after starting college, her dream will finally become a reality.

Scheduling days down to the minute

Chris Wolfe goes to class from 7:45 a.m. to noon, then goes to work at 1 p.m. until 10 p.m. Afterwards, he still faces homework when he returns.

He said doing it all takes a lot of scheduling.

“I schedule days basically down to the minute – everything is color-coded,” said the junior fashion merchandising major. “It takes very careful planning and a lot of headaches.”

He is taking 14 credit hours, working 40-45 hours as an assistant manager at Banana Republic and teaching a fashion First Year Colloquium class.

Wolfe said he works because the chance “to be an assistant manager of a multi-million dollar store at 18 is something that doesn’t happen to most 18-year-olds.”

But Wolfe thinks working will pay off in the long run because field experience and education combined will help him land a good job post-graduation.

His schedule does get stressful, he said. It affects him when he gets a lack of sleep, usually five to six hours a night.

“I live on Starbucks and Diet Coke,” he said. His friends have a running joke that he has an addiction to caffeine.

“Caffeine is the only thing that keeps me going,” he said. “Then it wears off and I crash. The crash days usually are when I’m off work. I keep going as long as I can push myself.”

Wolfe mentally prepares himself for his day off, knowing he can catch up on sleep. He just had a day off and slept until 12:30 p.m.

He said his packed schedule leaves him with little free time, making it “really hard to do something spontaneous.”

Instead, Wolfe plans get-togethers weeks in advance. As he is talking, his cell phone vibrates constantly with incoming messages from friends who want to see him.

“Work takes number one priority, school takes second priority and friends and relationships take third priority,” he said. “Having a relationship and friends is hard.”

Now, he has learned his limitations and said he tries to surround himself with people who are equally as busy.

Wolfe said his grades have dropped a little, as a result of working long hours. He tries to study on breaks or between classes, admitting that sometimes work causes him to miss class.

“It helps having someone in your class that understands,” he said.

Wolfe said, however, it is making him stronger, knowing that he can balance demands and learning how to manage time.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s worth it,” he said.

Contact news correspondent Kelly Petryszyn at [email protected].