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The iconic image of full-time college students lazing around between classes, socializing and coasting through higher education has been debunked as a "myth" in a new report issued by Old Dominion University's Center for the Study of Work.

According to the report, students today work longer hours, while juggling a staggering array of family and academic responsibilities.

The study "Working Lives of College Students," is based on a survey of more than 900 of Old Dominion's 15,000-plus undergraduates.

Two faculty members in ODU's Sociology and Criminal Justice Departments collaborated on the project, Leon Bouvier, who teaches the Sociology Department's capstone research course and Lucien Lombardo, who oordinates the Center for the Study of Work.

Bouvier and Lombardo wanted to explore how students balanced the multiple demands of school, work, and family.

"This was something I felt most of us in higher education knew very little about and to which we paid little attention," Lombardo said. "We often hear state-level government officials, legislators, and even many in higher education administration complain about the seemingly low four- and five-year graduation rates. I always have the feeling when I hear these discussions that [they think] the only thing college students have to do is go to class."

The study confirmed Lombardo's suspicions: "It was clear to me that the undergraduate life of living in a dorm for four years and taking classes was not a luxury most students could afford. Indeed, it was not the way study, family, and work interacted." Further, it underscores a growing national trend: the blurring of lines between "traditional" and "nontraditional" students. Indeed, working at least part time is a reality for most of the new majority students, who comprise 75 percent of the undergraduate population at U.S. colleges and universities.

Despite these stresses, students reported that they received some support for their educational pursuits from both work and family. About three-quarters of on-campus and distance learning students said that their employers offered flexible schedules to accommodate their studies. Financial support from employers, however, was less common. Only 10 percent of on-campus students' employers and 40 percent of distance learning students' employers reimbursed tuition costs.

The authors note, although on-campus students receive more financial assistance from their families than do distance learning students, nearly half of on-campus students pay their own tuition.

The fact that so many 18- to 24-year-olds are taking greater financial responsibility for their education further debunks the myth of the "typical" full-time student who does nothing but study, go to class and socialize. ##

This article was posted on: December 7, 2005

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