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MN college students must work to cover expenses

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Most Minnesota college students are still on their winter break, but for many it's not much of a vacation. They take on extra jobs to help pay for tuition, books and other expenses.

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A majority of Minnesota undergraduates already work a lot, between 20 and 30 hours per week on average.

They say it's essential to pay for tuition and other expenses, which have skyrocketed in the last decade.

That has some college officials worried that work is competing for too much of students' time.

But for many students, there's a lot more to university life than studying.

Kelly Gregg, a 21-year old sociology major at the University of Minnesota, can rattle off various on and off-campus jobs.

"I work here at the visual perception lab. I also pick up some babysitting hours," she said. "I also work with the ITV department [and] the audio visual department on campus; I'm a technician."

Gregg, of River Falls, Wis., estimates she works 15 to 20 hours a week. She expects to work even more during her winter break, which lasts until the middle of the month.

Her tuition bill is covered through scholarships and money her parents saved for her college education. But everything else that goes along with the college experience is Gregg's responsibility.

"As far rent and general living expenses, food, most of that I pay for through the work I do," she said.

Gregg said if she didn't work, she wouldn't be able to go to college.

The same goes for Bianca Jones. The 20-year old University of St. Thomas communications and journalism student works more than 30 hours a week. That's on top of being a full-time student.

"There are days where I just dread having to wake up and go to class because I know the day ahead and I know I won't be getting home until 11 o'clock," said Jones of Roseville, Minn.

Jones has two jobs -- one with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in downtown St. Paul, and one at a coffee shop near the St. Thomas campus.

Jones pays for her tuition and expenses through a mix of scholarships, loans and money she earns at her jobs.

She said her work, especially in the public affairs office at the Corps of Engineers, is good experience.

But Jones admits working 30 hours a week while going to school has a downside.

"It definitely does affect my studies," she said. "The biggest regret of all of this is that I wish I didn't have to work so much that it affected my grades."

In a review of 2008 federal data, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education found that 84 percent of students attending college in Minnesota worked compared to 79 percent of students nationwide. On average, Minnesota students worked 28 hours a week.

Shannah Mulvihill, director of university relations at the Minnesota State University Student Association, said nearly half of students at Minnesota's seven state-run universities who responded to an association survey last year work 20 hours a week or more while going to school.

Mulvihill said she was surprised at how many students said that work affected their studies.

"Nearly half of the students who responded to the survey said that the number of hours that they worked is negatively impacting their academic success," she said.

Mulvihilll says students are in a tough spot. They can work fewer hours, but be saddled with more student loans when they graduate. Their other option is to work more and take fewer classes, which means taking longer to get a degree.

Leslie Mercer, associate vice chancellor for research and planning at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, said a 2005 survey of MnSCU students showed 62 percent said work limits the time they study.

"They report that they don't have as much time to read and to study as we would probably like them to," she said.

In a perfect world, Mercer said, students would concentrate on earning heir degrees, while working no more than 10 to 12 hours at an on-campus job.

"Once you get beyond that I think it gets more problematic," she said.

However, Mercer said most students need to work more than 10 to 12 hours a week.

She said MnSCU is trying to work around students' busy schedules by offering more night, weekend and online courses.

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