Students make sacrifices to be free of debt

by Kate Paulman

Around the time most students are studying, relaxing or celebrating “thirsty Thursday,” junior Sarah Butler is just coming home from a five hour shift of carrying heavy trays and dealing with customers.

“After I get home from work, all the energy I have is to sit down on the couch,” Butler said. “I’m tired but I don’t have the time to waste. I’d rather do my homework than just sit and watch t.v.”

Butler is a waitress at Romano’s Macaroni Grill in West Des Moines. She works 30 hours a week, a full-time schedule for a server, for $3.09/hour plus tips.

After getting out of class at 3:15 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she usually goes to her room, changes, drives to Des Moines, takes tables until 9, cleans up, gets home at 10:30p.m., tries to do homework and then goes to bed.

As if that weren’t enough, she recently signed on as a tutor at Hawley Resource Center, bringing her total to 34 working hours a week.

Butler is part of the 43 percent of full-time college students who work over 26 hours a week, according to 2002 data from the American Council on Education. Sixty percent of students who do work, do not maintain a full class load.

The American Council on Education recommends that full-time students work only one to 15 hours per week.

Students who work more than 15 hours a week tend to have weaker grades and less of a chance of completing a degree, according to the council. Butler, a transfer student from Iowa State, said that her performance at Simpson is a “polar opposite” to her earlier grades, even though she did not begin working full-time until she had to pay the higher tuition.

“My [admission] chances were kind of slim,” Butler said. “But I’m doing so much better here, even working 30 hours a week. You have to use your time really efficiently. You don’t have time to get behind because you don’t have time to play catch-up.”

Butler is working so she can graduate from Simpson debt-free.

“Sarah’s an excellent worker,” Lloyd Hawthorn, manager at Macaroni Grill, said. “She doesn’t let anything slip.”

In 2002, 62 percent of Iowa public university graduates finished with debt from student loans, up from 55 percent in 1998, according to a nationwide survey conducted by federal loan provider Nellie Mae.

Butler had to take out student loans to pay Simpson’s tuition.

“People don’t think about having all those loans to pay back,” Butler said. “I know that it’s going to add up.”

It could especially add up for Butler-she plans to get a master’s degree in nursing.

Both of Butler’s parents had to pay their way through college and “appreciated it” every step of the way. When her grades started to slip, her parents said it was time for her to do the same.

“I appreciate the experience, but it’s also a big pain in the butt,” Butler said. “Driving home, tired from carrying food all day, sometimes I wish I could have been at home watching ‘Joe Millionaire.'”

Besides putting a strain on her physically, her tough schedule has also put a damper on a social life. Butler leaves for a double shift at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and doesn’t come home until 11 p.m.

“The weekends are hard, partly because I’m a transfer student and because of my work schedule,” Butler said. “I know it’s a big time for people to hang out and I’m not around. I don’t know that many people here, which is an effect of me working so much. I can’t go out as much as I used to and it’s harder to get involved with campus groups because I can’t get it in my schedule.”

According to Hawthorn, there are several students employed at Macaroni Grill.

“We have people from all walks of life,” Hawthorn said. “From full-time students to full-time mothers.”

Butler said working makes her understand the value of education.

“As much as you pay for it, you need to work and try your hardest,” Butler said. “I think that paying for all of this will make it that much better when I graduate free of debt. Working a job with people who don’t have college degrees made me realize the importance of education and working hard.”