The Juggling Struggle

By: Valerie D. Centeno Cruz

“When I went off to college my expenses increased. During my second year I fell in love and things got serious. When my mother found out she kicked me out of the house and left me alone to deal with all my college expenses, living expenses and a car debt” said Danessa Diaz, an undergraduate student from the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez campus.

As with Danessa’s case, many students find themselves alone to deal with the stress of paying for college, supporting themselves and sometimes supporting their families as well.

Students have to study while working in order to meet deadlines and gain money simultaneously.

When a child is born, parents are expected to begin planning and saving money for that child’s college education. In reality things rarely happen that way. So, when students head for college, they do not have sufficient funds.

On top of that, today’s student’s expenses tend to surpass their or their family’s income. A student’s education comes with the responsibility of paying for tuitions, rents, cellphones, electrical bills, internet, gasoline and many other expenses.

This economic burden has pushed students to look for part-time or full-time jobs and work long and exhausting hours in order to be able to afford an education.

According to a study conducted by Leon Bouvier and Lucien Lombardo, both professors at the Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, around 75% of undergraduate students in the United States have a part-time or full-time job.

Emmanuel Diaz making pizzas to afford his education.

Emmanuel Diaz, another undergraduate student from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez, commented that he didn’t want to feel dependent on his parents and he felt that he could do both things at the same time, so he did.

Many of these students work a lot of hours per week and some work very late hours. This affects their performance in college.

Emmanuel works full-time and mostly during late shifts. When asked how this affected his studies he said, “I’m always very tired. Sometimes I’m too tired to study. I have to study while I’m working which doesn’t allow me to concentrate on what I’m studying.”

He acknowledges that his performance in college is average and it is mostly due to his work. “The time I use working, I could use to study better and get good grades,” he said.

These working students have to juggle between college classes, assignments and their jobs. Most find it too stressful and demanding.

According to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), around 50% of students who work do not finish college. They cannot adapt to the situation or concentrate on their studies. Some also find themselves in bad health or their efforts are not enough and they do not have the funds to continue their studies.

CHED also mentions in their report that most students work in food service, entertainment and sales. The job positions that students occupy in these types of jobs are usually very demanding and stressful with little pay.

Half of a waitress' income comes from tips.

Danessa, for example, works as a waitress in an Italian and pizza restaurant. “We get paid $3.70 an hour and then we complement it with the tips we receive from the customers. The problem is, many customers have no awareness of our wage so they don’t leave tips,” she said.

Her job tasks include waiting tables, preparing the desserts and drinks, and sometimes even plating some dishes. After service hours, she has to clean the bathrooms, refill what has been used up, shine and wrap all the silverware that was used during the shift and also sweep the whole restaurant.

“Sometimes I find it is too much work. When I get home I’m very exhausted and in the mornings it is difficult to get up and go to college. My bachelor’s degree has taken me forever to finish because I cannot focus on my classes and I can’t have many classes per semester either”, she said.

The race towards a career has become harder and exhausting for a great number of students. They’re juggling to have a better future and most of them can’t handle the pressure.

“I tell my student employees to hang in there, work hard and try as best as they can to balance it out. Eventually, they will finish and hopefully they’ll find a better job and have a better quality of life,” said Jose Sostre, manager of the Italian and pizza restaurant called Faccio Pizza.

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