Bussing tables or hitting the books: The struggle of the working student

Riley Palmer, Staff Writer


Working three jobs at 15. Watching five-hour shifts morph into nine-hours in the blink of an eye. Bussing tables instead of busting out research papers. For 21-year-old Alexis Morgan, this story is all too familiar.

Since she was a teenager, Morgan chipped in with bills and made sacrifices in her academic career to afford her basic needs. “If I didn’t work I wouldn’t have shampoo or conditioner. I wouldn’t have working water or power, and most importantly, I wouldn’t have a roof over my head or food in my fridge,” Morgan said.

Now that she is in college, Morgan works two jobs to make ends meet.

“The stress of every single bill under the sun and the stress of having two jobs on top of making it to class on time killed me,” she said. “It killed my enthusiasm for reports. It killed my drive to go to class, and it killed my desire to have the best education I could get for myself.

This is the case for many community college students at Santa Rosa Junior College  because Sonoma County’s cost of living often makes it challenging for students to make ends meet.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator, the minimum livable wage for a single, adult, full time worker in Sonoma County is $13.92. The county’s minimum hourly wage is $10.50. This means even single residents working full time at minimum wage jobs will struggle to afford living in the county they call home – and that’s without factoring in the cost and commitment of college classes.  

It’s about more than dollars and cents. Dedicating such a significant amount of time to a job while also attending school directly affects the amount of energy students have available to devote to their college experience.

I think many students who work could get better grades if they did not have to work,” said Santa Rosa Junior College instructor Martha Murphy. “It would be ideal if no student had to work while in school, but for many it is absolutely necessary.”

Murphy, who said she also worked about 30-40 hours a week when she was student, confessed it did get in the way of her grades.

“I think working takes away time from doing the best job that they can in school. Here at SRJC, we also have many students who are raising families and working while going to school,” Murphy said. “Frankly, I don’t know how they manage it. I think it is because they are often more mature students who have figured out how to manage their time.”

Yet while some students like Morgan and Murphy have no choice but to work while attending school, other students decide to get a job simply as a way to transition into adulthood.

Santa Rosa Junior College student Kamryn Trinkino, 18, currently lives at home with her family and works part time, saving toward her goal of eventually moving out of her family’s house. Not only is her financial situation different than Morgan’s, so is her opinion on whether work interferes with classes.

“I do not think work gets in the way of my school performance. I know I could try harder if I wanted to,” Trinkino said. “But if I wanted to move out of my parents house any time soon, I would have to quit school for a while and then come back.”

But cases like Trinkino’s, where students can choose whether to take employment, are a luxury not available to all. Many students are like Morgan; they must get a job in order to survive. Yet she wouldn’t change her choice to be both an employee and student.

“School and your education are the most important things, and nothing and nobody can take that away from you, except yourself,” Morgan says.