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  • Expanding the Student Employment Literature:Investigating the Practice of Reflection in On-Campus Student Employment
  • Leah R. Halper (bio), Caleb A. Craft (bio), and Yang Shi (bio)

As the cost of attending postsecondary education increases, a growing number of college students seek and obtain employment while attending school (Carnevale, Smith, Melton, & Price, 2015; Davis, 2012). Existing research concerning college student employment typically addresses the same question: Is working during college related to students' academic performance? This study offers a new angle on this question consistent with themes of student learning and development. Instead of asking if student employment affects students' academics, we asked how could student employment be enhanced to better ensure academic benefit to student employees.

Over the past two decades, dozens of studies have reported the relationship between student employment and academic outcomes (e.g., Mayhew, Rockenbach, Bowman, Seifert, & Wolniak, 2016; Neyt, Omey, Verhaest, & Baert, 2018; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). When considering this relationship, grade point average (GPA) and retention from one academic term to the next are the [End Page 516] outcomes measured. Student employment status is commonly examined in terms of work intensity (defined by hours worked per week) and work location (defined as on-campus or off-campus). The majority of studies indicate that working students receive no significant benefit in terms of GPA or retention compared to those who do not work (Mayhew et al., 2016), with a few exceptions (e.g., Brint & Cantwell, 2010; Horn & Malizio, 1998). With respect to work location, Mayhew et al. (2017) detailed several studies indicating that on-campus employment had a positive relationship with student retention; however, the positive relationship disappears when taking into account hours worked per week. Though in a few studies researchers have looked at outcomes beyond GPA and retention as they examined the relationship between employment and student learning (Arum & Roksa, 2011; Athas, Oaks, & Kennedy-Phillips, 2013; Pike, Kuh, & Massa-McKinley, 2008), there is limited empirical consideration of how to structure employment experiences to enhance learning (see Hansen & Hoag, 2018; Kuh, 2010; McClellan, Creager, & Savoca, 2018). We sought to address this gap by examining an employment practice intended to integrate employment experiences into academic learning.


The context for this study was an employment program called the Student Employment Experience (SEE) in the student affairs division of a large, public, Midwestern university. The SEE program is intended to enhance the educational benefits of student employment through a variety of constructs including structured learning competencies, supervisor training, and cocurricular development workshops. The program also incorporates the Iowa GROW® model as a tool for reflection in interviews between student employees and their supervisors. GROW®, which stands for Guided Reflection on Work, is a series of questions developed to help students reflect on what they are learning from their campus jobs and identify areas of learning that transfer between their work and academics (University of Iowa, 2018). The SEE program is structured around six broad learning competencies: learning application (LA); critical thinking and problem solving (CTPS); intrapersonal development (INTRA); interpersonal development (INTER); humanitarianism and civic engagement (HCE); and practical competence (PC). These learning competencies and their associated survey measurements were based on recommendations from the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (2009) and Learning Reconsidered 2 (Keeling, 2006), as well as the article, "Student Employee Development in Student Affairs" (Athas et al., 2013). The mediator variable (i.e., reflection on academic integration) was developed from materials from the University of Iowa (2019). The primary questions in our study were as follows: Compared to students not in SEE, do SEE participants score higher on learning outcomes? Does reflection on academic integration (i.e., connecting learning in the workplace with learning in the classroom) help explain any differences between SEE and non-SEE student employees?



The participants in this study consisted of a random sample of 1,983 student employees in the student affairs division at the university. The student employment program had been introduced to all student employees who were working in 20 of the 40 student affairs departments, so this method took advantage of a quasi-experimental design. Additionally, [End Page 517] some dining services operations had adopted the program, and some...


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