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Making the best of Tough Times

Part-time jobs and increased financial aid have helped many students cope with a tough economy.

For Tabitha Williams, a senior at UNC Asheville, there are hardly enough hours in the day. Between attending classes and lectures in Art History and preparing for the birth of her first child due in November, she works an average of 30 hours a week in retail sales at the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, and 12 hours a week in the campus News Services office. It's a schedule she enjoys, but one that demands time-management skills, flexibility, a bit of determination and a willingness to forego sleeping in on Saturday mornings.

Williams is not alone. As more and more students and their families are being squeezed by rising prices and a sluggish economy, having that part-time job is often a necessity. In addition, financial aid (scholarships, loans or a combination) has become a routine part of affording college.

"I'd be lying if I said that I don't fall short on some things in my life sometimes because of the long hours, but it seems like I've always had a job, and I enjoy it. It's just part of my life," Williams said. "Being pregnant now is that much more motivation for me to get everything done, get my degree and be a mother."

Karis Roberts, a senior Psychology major from Wilmington, N.C., also holds down three off-campus jobs in order to pay the bills. "I'm 100 percent financially independent—I pay for everything, so working is important. I also have some student grants that help as well."

Roberts works in two church nurseries in addition to working at a retail clothing store in a local mall. "It takes a lot of time management to work and attend classes. My big issue is I tend to double-book myself, but so far I've been able to allow time to study and to have a little fun along the way," she said.

There are no hard-and-fast figures on all forms of student employment, but the campus Career Center reports that in the past year more than 526 students were employed on campus, where the average wage was $8.26 an hour. Many more held off-campus jobs, internships and federal work-study jobs.

Jobs and financial aid

Many UNC Asheville students are thankful that in addition to part-time work, they also qualify for various forms of financial aid—scholarships, grants, student loans and federal work-study. In fact, more than 51 percent of UNC Asheville students receive some form of financial aid.

But the unfortunate truth is that there is not really enough financial aid to meet all the needs of our students, despite the fact that UNC Asheville is among the most affordable liberal arts institutions nationwide. U.S. News & World Report's annual college rankings show that the university ranks 14th among all liberal arts colleges for graduating students with the least amount of debt. The average student loan indebtedness for a UNC Asheville graduate is about $14,000.

"We try our very best to put together packages that meet as much of each student's financial need as we can," said Beth Bartlett, associate director of Financial Aid. "We try to match our students with as much grant aid as possible, and we spend every penny we have trying to reduce students' loan debt.

"There's a critical need for more scholarships, especially merit-based scholarships (endowed scholarships or unrestricted gifts that could fund scholarships)," said Bartlett. "Often donors request their scholarship dollars be awarded to students with need, and that is not always possible when awarding scholarships to students for the highest academic achievers. If we had more merit aid available, we could use the scholarships designated for needy students and further reduce our students' debt load."

Currently, the Laurels Scholarship is UNC Asheville's largest scholarship, which is awarded to the most academically high-achieving freshmen. The funding for these scholarships comes from a pool of funds contributed by donors. Some are based on need, merit or both need and merit. That funding provides for only two or three full Laurels Scholarships; the remainder of the scholarships range in value from $1,200 to $3,500.

Additional unrestricted funding earmarked for a flagship scholarship would be a godsend for students. Bartlett said she wishes that UNC Asheville had the equivalent of UNC-Chapel Hill's Morehead Scholarship or the Park Scholarship at NC State. "If we did, we could definitely increase our pool of really top students, while also assisting other worthy students in meeting their financial need with additional grants."

By comparison, Western Carolina University awards 10 WCU Foundation Scholarships each year, renewable for four years. Davidson awards four to six full Belk Scholarships each year.
Rebecca Williams, a freshman from Mendham, N.J., is a full Laurels Scholar. "I'm the youngest in my family, and my brothers and sisters have already graduated. They are still paying off student loans.

The scholarship is really helping my family with my tuition costs because my dad has been unemployed for a year now and my mom is a high school counselor. I may look for a job next semester because I still have to pay for my books."
Currently, UNC Asheville's Financial Aid office is able to provide some form of aid to virtually every student who qualifies for the Laurels Scholarship. The average per student is $1,800, which in comparison with some other institutions is low.

As a consequence, a student's first stop after enrollment is oftentimes the Career Center and its workshops on how to find on- and off-campus jobs.

Eileen Buecher, director of the Career Center, said this year 235 students attended the first information session, all of them interested in getting part-time employment to help with living expenses. "Most of these students are used to working and they want jobs. We're fortunate that we can offer them many on-campus job opportunities that give them leadership skills or internships, not just clerical work," she said.

Megan Sinkinson Withrow is one of them. Withrow, a junior Multimedia Arts and Sciences major from Wilmington, N.C., works in the Career Center for 12 hours a week in addition to a job as a line judge for the women's volleyball team. "Working here is a great networking opportunity," Withrow said. "It's tough sometimes to juggle school and work, but it's possible. I just have to make sure that school is my top priority."

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