There are two possible reasons Friday is the best day of the week for a college student. One, it signals time off from classes. Subscribers to this kind of Friday usually find themselves celebrating with a drink or two (or five) along with a visit to a fraternity house. The second kind of Friday, which an increasing number of students look forward to with a vengeance befitting spring break, is payday.
According to a 2008 Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) economic report, students enrolled in Boston's numerous colleges make up 33 percent of the overall state collegiate population. And what they earn often stays here: student spending (along with tuition) contributes upwards of $4.8 billion annually to the city's economy.
Many students work to survive. They wouldn't be in school at all if they didn't have jobs. But for others, discretionary employment yields discretionary income. For them, the question becomes whether or not blending Frappucinos during "the best days of your life" is worth it. Does taking food orders fit into the meaningful experience that comes with getting your fake ID confiscated — or camping in the library until the sun comes up? Or can it be that the need/desire for hard-earned (or easily earned, for that matter) cold cash is fueling an employment frenzy among undergrads in Boston, and taking a toll on the college experience?
Money (that's what I want)
On Friday and Saturday nights, Northeastern senior Monika Lynn Couture can usually be found reciting specials at Boylston Street restaurant Vox Populi. Her co-workers include a handful of other college students from schools all over town. Couture has been a server here for three years, and manages a tight schedule: in addition to this gig, she holds a medical internship and attends Northeastern full-time.
"The best part about working is the money," Couture says. "I like knowing that I am able to manage my own money and take care of all of my own living expenses. . . . I couldn't live in Boston and go to school if I didn't have a job. No money means no rent and no food."
And what about our ever-worsening recession? Dorm-bound undergrads, with no major out-of-pocket expenses (rent, food, gas) are notorious overspenders. But working students, with a few expected outliers, seem to understand the realities of the stock market even if they're not playing the game. The recession becomes evident when they're on the clock, says Couture, whose hours at work mean nothing if no one comes in for dinner.
"I don't have a lot of money and I don't have any investments or anything like that at this point in my life, so personally the recession has not affected my life in a major way," she says. "But I have definitely noticed a decrease of business at the restaurant. Less customers equals less tips, which is how I get paid."
Couture adds that though she was never a frivolous spender, the recent plummet in the economy has made her more conscious of her spending, a sentiment echoed by many working students. Boston's collegiate population is gearing up for the worst, even though a good percentage of students say their paychecks go toward nonessentials, such as buying clothes, eating out, and catching a movie.
Meeting in the middle
Michelle Webber, a Boston University sophomore, is employed through her university's work-study program. After shelving and re-shelving books as a library assistant her freshman year, Webber currently works as a senior office assistant in one of the dormitory computer labs.
"I took the job because I happened to qualify for work-study, which was nice," says Webber, who was awarded the opportunity through her financial-status application. "I wanted to be able to have a source of spending money independent from my family. They pay enough."
Navigating the work-study hierarchy for the best jobs in a limited pool can be frustrating, Webber adds, and sometimes more difficult than finding a job off-campus. But the flexibility that comes with the territory is one of the best deals around.
"They all know that you are at [school] to study, so if you need to ask for a shift off because you have school-related things to do, or final exams, or maybe you need just a little more time to study, you can do it," she says.
For students looking to break the bank, however, work-study may not be the wisest choice. Many schools, BU included, limit the amount of money employees can make and how many shifts per week they work, so padding the paycheck is next to impossible.
Work-study situations are a comfortable compromise. While an off-campus job has its perks — higher hourly wages, a chance to meet people from outside the college fishbowl, and an opportunity to get a foot in the door for future job prospects — an on-campus job does allow students to do something that's already costing upwards of $35,000 a year: be students.