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Employed and In School

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  • Even though on-campus enrollment for American colleges is at an all-time low due to COVID-19, workers enrolled in school have bounced back to pre-pandemic numbers.
  • Women make up nearly 78% of those working in Health Services and enrolled in college.
  • Employees with children felt more supported by their employer than employees without kids.

During a year like 2020, it’s reasonable to believe that every aspect of American life was affected – from employment to our career goals and even our attitudes toward our education. And though freshmen enrollment in American colleges has dropped significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic, American employees who balanced work and college coursework were less deterred from their studies. Our study found that, whether they were pursuing a bachelor’s degree while holding down a job or pursuing postgraduate degrees to increase earning potential at their current company, America’s employed student body has largely bounced back to the enrollment numbers they reported in January and February of 2020. So what’s the status of America’s studious workforce, and how are they managing work and school?

We used IPUMS data from the Current Population Survey, a monthly survey conducted across thousands of households in America, in order to analyze the number of people who were both in the workforce and enrolled in college (either part-time or full time) and the industries that employed them. We then conducted our own in-depth survey of Americans balancing their jobs and education to dive deeper into the trends in both fields of study and current work industries. In doing so, we identified the most common subjects of study among student workers as well as which industries they work in and how all of these factors influenced their expected income.

Working and Studying

The ability or desire to hold down a job and continue education in America is declining, according to our year-over-year analysis of employed Americans enrolled in school. Around 6.4% of the workforce in 2020 was enrolled in college either part-time or full-time.

annual_and_monthly_employee_enrollment_in_college

Though the trend of continuing education while employed may be becoming less popular or accessible, this group of the American workforce is nevertheless resilient, especially in the face of a global pandemic. We explored monthly data from IPUMS and found that the percentage of employees who are also enrolled in college has bounced back to pre-pandemic numbers.

We wanted to take a closer look at the demographics of the employee-student workforce, so we analyzed the number of those who were working and enrolled by age group, enrollment status, and gender and came away with some interesting findings.

college_enrolled_employees_by_demographic

Around 73% of these working students were in their 20s or younger, most likely a snapshot of the half a million students who rely on work-study opportunities to pay for college. Roughly a third of this group was in their 30s or older. A significantly larger proportion of women held down a job while in school – they were over 38% more likely to work while enrolled in school than males in 2019, which dipped slightly in 2020 to 37%.

Student-Centric Industries

Which industries have the most studious employees? The education and child services field saw the most employees enrolled in college, followed by the entertainment and gaming industry. Food, beverage, and hospitality came in third place for most employees enrolled in school, while the transportation and construction industries were the least conducive to balancing their work-life with their education.

Industries_enrolling_the_most_college_students

We analyzed college enrollment by industry before and during the COVID-19 outbreak in order to see how college enrollment fluctuated, if at all. Here were some of our key findings:

    • Government jobs saw the biggest percentage increase in college enrollment (47%) from January 2020 to October 2020 followed by the civic and nonprofit sector (39% increase).

The real estate and housing industry saw the biggest percentage decrease in employee college enrollment (-40%).

The education and child services industry, among being the industry with the highest percentage of its employees enrolled in school, also saw a bump in enrollment in the fall of 2020 (14% increase). Why are so many workers in the education and child services industry pursuing a college education and increasingly interested in doing so? They may be participating in college work and study programs or are simply aware that educational attainment can positively affect earning potential.

Using supplementary income data from IPUMS, we analyzed the average salary of each of these student-centric industries by education to see the difference a degree makes in annual salary. Among other findings, the data shows that workers in the education and child services industry with a bachelor’s degree made around $17K more than those without a bachelor’s.

average_salary_by_degree_and_industry

We were also interested in the gender distribution across each of these industries in an effort to ascertain which industries employed women were gravitating toward, compared to employed men. Of health service workers who were also enrolled in college, nearly 78% were women, whereas construction was more male-dominated for work and study.

student_gender_distribution_by_industry

Balancing School and Work

We wanted to explore the experiences behind the data points, so we conducted a survey of over 800 employed people who were also enrolled in college, as either full-time or part-time students. The number of college students who take online classes has risen over recent years, so it was understandable that online attendees made up 85% of the student workforce, according to our survey findings. In-person attendance for college coursework was the least popular format among survey respondents in the past year, perhaps due to challenges with containing the spread of COVID-19 on college campuses.

how_employees_manage_studying_and_work

We found that business, management, marketing, and related support services were the most common courses of study, with around 32% reporting enrollment in that major area of study. Our study also found that more men than women gravitated toward engineering, whereas women were more likely to be enrolled in health service-related courses.

Employer Support

Over three-quarters of the student workforce reported that their employers at least moderately supported their efforts to continue education. Only 8.2% of respondents reported their employers as being not at all supportive. But just what kind of support are employees getting to continue their education while on the job? Almost 70% of student workers reported their employer is at least paying for a portion of their studies, with those pursuing doctorate degrees most likely to receive full financial support.

how_employers_are_supporting_employees_in_college_education

And while employer support for continued education in the workforce was robust and sometimes accompanied by financial aid, that opportunity wasn’t equitable for everyone. Employees with families felt more supported by their employers than their childless counterparts, and our study showed that this lack of support had consequences for work-life balance.

Whether you have your boss’s support or not, it can be difficult to plan for continued education, especially during a global health crisis and the resulting job insecurity from COVID-19. And for those who are building a career or gaining on-the-job experience, attending courses in person can be an even more difficult decision. Finding the right resources to guide you through this time can help alleviate that stress. EduRef.net, a nationally recognized provider of college planning resources, can help you browse hundreds of accredited and affordable online colleges to help you find the best fit for both your educational needs and your wallet. Visit EduRef.net today to learn more about your options, as well as your financial aid and postgraduate opportunities.

Methodology and Limitations

For the first part of our analysis, we used IPUMS CPS data in order to explore the number of Americans ages 25 and older with jobs who were also continuing education by enrolling full or part-time in college. In order to calculate the average wages of our top industries of enrolled students, we used the ASEC supplemental data and weighted our data. We surveyed 833 respondents ranging in age from 18 to 68 who reported full-time or part-time employment coupled with full-time or part-time enrollment in college courses. 45% of our respondents were in their 20s, 32% were in their 30s, and 23% were in their 40s or older. 54% of respondents were men, and 46% were women. 64% of respondents had children, and 36% did not.

Survey data has certain limitations related to self-reporting. These limitations include telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory. We didn’t weigh our survey data or statistically test our hypotheses. This was a purely exploratory project that examines the industries enrolling the most college students.

Fair Use Statement

Are you interested in discussing the pros and cons of continued education and employment? Feel free to share our study with like-minded individuals but please do so for noncommercial purposes. And don’t forget to link back to our study to give us credit for our work.