With a student body as diverse as any in the nation, campus studies suggest CSUN students have at least one thing in common – the need to work.
Addressing one of the lowest four-year graduation rates in the CSU system, a 2002 survey conducted by a university task force found 86 percent of all CSUN students worked, with 49 percent working 20 hours or more.
Sixty-five percent of the respondents stated the biggest obstacle to a timely graduation was “the need to work.”
“I literally have no time for anything,” said senior Josh Townsend, 23. “I get up and go to work or my internship, go to class, come home, do homework, then go to bed. Then I get up at 6 a.m., turn around and do it all over again.”
Townsend, a screenwriting major, pays for his educational and living expenses by working between 25 and 30 hours a week. This semester, he will carry 18 units.
Townsend can forget about a social life.
“I’ll have no time Monday through Friday,” Townsend said. “College is rough. But once it’s over and done with, you’re better off.”
Financially speaking, Townsend is right.
According to a survey by the U.S. Department of Labor, a college graduate can expect to earn almost twice the salary of a high school graduate, and the higher the degree earned, the more one will earn over a lifetime and the less likely unemployment becomes.
But potential earnings for college graduates have little bearing on the low-wage realities they face working part-time jobs while still in school.
CSUN economics professor Daniel Blake said the average salary for a clothing sales employee is about $19,000 a year, with food service and bar employees earning on average $15,700.
Blake, director of the San Fernando Valley Economic Research Center, said with the Valley’s high housing costs and gasoline prices, students are likely to struggle.
CSUN students are apparently feeling the pinch.
The Office of Institutional Research reports that more than half of CSUN’s student body receives financial assistance of some sort.
All this as tuition fees continue to rise.
Glenn Omatsu, a program coordinator for CSUN’s Educational Opportunity Program, said changing political philosophies through the last 20 years has not been kind to students.
“Policy towards higher education has shifted, and that’s why fees have been coming up,” Omatsu said. “Students and families are now more responsible for paying for a college education.
“College education is defined as a budget cost as opposed to an investment.”
CSUN student Alicia Castillo, 25, had to take out a loan to pay her school expenses. She graduated last spring, earning a degree in public health education and is now taking courses to enter a physician’s assistant program.
While attending school as a full-time undergraduate student, Castillo worked more than 45 hours a week at Sav-on drugs Pharmacy in Burbank and a private pharmacy in Beverly Hills.
“It was overwhelming at times,” Castillo said. “Basically, I had no social life. It was difficult, but I managed my time.”
The Burbank Sav-on’s 24-hour service offered Castillo flexibility with her work schedule and enabled her to study on the weekends.
This semester, Castillo will cut back on her work hours in order to accommodate more demanding graduate-level classes, and although she expects the remainder of her education to be challenging, she feels confident her efforts will pay off in many ways, including financially.
Despite the fact that CSUN graduates can expect to make a great deal more money than those who do not attend college, if they want to live in Los Angeles, there’s a price to pay.
“Los Angeles is a fairly high cost living city,” said CSUN economics professor Robert Krol.
“So obviously when you graduate in L.A., your dollars don’t go as far.”
Krol added employers can adjust salaries to the cost of living for their own interests, such as attracting the most qualified employees, and although it is costly to live in Southern California, theoretically, people who work in Los Angeles are paid more than people in lower cost areas.
In the near future, Townsend and Castillo can expect a boost in their quality of life as a result of their higher education.
As they and other CSUN students continue to work while studying, the road to financial stability will not necessarily be easy.
Bethania Palma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org