On-Campus Employment as a Factor of Student Retention and Graduation 

Katherine Cermak, Academic Affairs and Joe Filkins, OIPR 


Part of DePaul’s mission is to provide access to higher education for disadvantaged populations: “DePaul continues its commitment to the education of first generation college students, especially those from the diverse cultural and ethnic groups in the metropolitan area. . . .It seeks diversity in students’ special talents, qualities, interests, and socio-economic background.”  Many DePaul students, especially those of minority and/or socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, are first generation college students and come to DePaul with the disadvantages known to be problematic for these students:  a lack of college knowledge, less family support and lower levels of engagement both socially and academically than traditional students. 

It has been proffered that on-campus employment is one way to retain students at higher rates, largely by increasing students’ levels of affinity with the University.  This study examines the persistence and graduation of first-time, full-time freshmen students employed on-campus their first and/or second year compared to those who were not so employed and also looks at student satisfaction and levels of social inclusiveness reported by each group of students.  The findings detailed below are not intended to suggest a causal relationship between on-campus employment and retention.   Student retention and attrition is a complex phenomenon impacted by many factors.  Rather, the following report explores the relationship between employment on-campus, campus affinity, and retention as experienced by students at DePaul.  


On-campus employment data were obtained for all students for the 1999-2000 through the 2002-2003 academic years.  These data were merged with the OIPR retention data for four cohorts of first-time, full-time freshmen (n=7,868), allowing for comparisons of persistence and graduation rates between students employed on-campus to those not similarly employed.  Also, for those students who were employed on-campus and that had completed Student Satisfaction Surveys, administered in 2000 through 2002, comparisons were made between their responses and the responses of otherwise similar students who were not employed on-campus (n=2,345).  



An average of 17% of DePaul freshmen leave prior to the beginning of their second year.[1]  The following chart shows that students employed on-campus have a substantially higher rate of persistence into their second year (17.8 percentage points higher, on average) than students not similarly employed.[2]  Of the population of freshmen who work for DePaul an average of 98% persist into the fall of their second year.

At the beginning of the third year an average of 26% of students are no longer enrolled at DePaul.  However, for students who were employed on-campus, an average of 91% across the three years shown were retained. These results suggest that the benefits of on-campus employment during the freshman year persist beyond the second year.

The figure below tracks the 1999 cohort of freshmen over four years of enrollment and illustrates the difference in persistence rates between students who were employed as freshmen and those who were not.  Students who were employed on-campus as freshmen were retained at substantially higher rates every year after their freshman year than freshmen from the same cohort who were not similarly employed.

Additionally, we see a substantially higher percentage of students who were employed having graduated after four years than those not employed.

Continuing into the second year with the approximately 83% of students who persist at DePaul, most students who were employed their freshman year and who returned at the beginning of their sophomore year, greater than 97%, continued to be employed on-campus.  The following chart shows that second year students, from the original cohorts, who worked on-campus only during their freshman year have highly variable rates of persistence.  Persistence rates ranged from a low of 71.6% to a high of 92.9%, for the 1999 and 2001 cohorts.  Student employment on-campus during the sophomore year, regardless of whether or not it was in combination with on-campus employment the previous year, was associated with extremely high retention rates into the third year, typically at or near 100%.  


On average, in terms of third year retention, it appears to make little difference if a student who returned for his/her second year worked as a freshman or not.  Across all three cohorts, the persistence rate was 79.3% for second year students who had only been employed on-campus their freshman year and 84.5% for those who were not employed on-campus either year.  However, as mentioned above, at this point in a student’s career continuing or beginning on-campus employment is associated with substantially higher persistence rates.  Students who work their second year, with or without having worked the previous year, persist into their third year at rates near 100%.

In terms of outcomes, on-campus employment during the first and/or second year is translated into substantially higher percentages of students graduating within four years.  Additionally, on-campus employment is associated with persistence into the fifth year.  The following chart shows fourth year graduation and fifth year persistence rates for the 1999 cohort of freshmen.  For students who had been employed on-campus graduation rates ranged from 42.7% for students who worked only their freshmen year to 69.3% for students who worked both years, both rates are substantially higher than the 34.8% for students who did not work on-campus either year.  In terms of overall persistence and graduation only 59.7% of students who were not employed on-campus their freshman or sophomore years made it to this point, while the rate is 68.2% for students who worked on-campus only during their freshmen year, 87.2% for only the sophomore year, and 80.2% for students who worked both years. 

In terms of student affinity with DePaul and feelings of social inclusiveness with the University, student employment on-campus is linked with student satisfaction.  Students employed on-campus, especially those employed during their freshman year, exhibited greater levels of connectedness to DePaul than students who were never employed on-campus and those who did not begin working for DePaul until their second year.  Compared to other students not similarly employed, student satisfaction data indicates that students who were employed on-campus during their freshman year more frequently “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement that they would choose to re-enroll at DePaul.  The percentage of freshman student workers who responded “agree” or “strongly agree” for re-enrolling at DePaul was 76.9%.  The combined percentages “agree” or “strongly agree” for students who had never worked on-campus or those who did not work their freshman year were between 58.1% and 64.1%.  The above chart illustrates the differences between students employed on-campus, particularly the freshman year, and those not so employed. 

The association between on-campus employment and retention was also reflected in students’ feelings of belonging and liking being a DePaul student.  Students employed on-campus their freshman year reported higher levels of agreement regarding belongingness (84.4% “agree” or “strongly agree” for students who worked the freshman year and 79.3% combined for students who worked both the freshman and second year) than students who did not work on-campus during their first year (68.1% to 69.4%).  With regard to liking being a student at DePaul, students who worked on-campus were more likely to indicate that they like being a DePaul student than other students not employed by DePaul.  Percentages for “agree” or “strongly agree” were 88.1% for freshmen who worked on-campus and 84.5% for students who had worked both their first and second year.  Ratings were substantially lower for first year students not employed on-campus, 78.4%, and for second year students who had not worked on-campus either year, 76%.

Finally, with regard to satisfaction and campus affinity, students who were employed on-campus had higher levels of confidence in their decision to attend DePaul compared to other students not similarly employed.  Freshmen who worked on-campus were more likely to “agree” or “strongly agree” that they were confident they had made the right decision with regard to attending DePaul, 82.8% compared to freshmen who weren’t similarly employed 67.4%.  Second year students who had worked both years had a combined percentage of 76.7% “agree” or “strongly agree” compared to 70% for second year students who had never worked on-campus.


Students employed on-campus during their first or second year have substantially higher graduation rates than those not similarly employed.  Almost all students, over 97% on average, who worked their freshman year re-enrolled at DePaul the following fall, compared to about 80% of those who were not employed on-campus.  Additionally, over half of students who had worked their freshman year and returned for a second year continued to work on-campus the second year.  Student affinity with DePaul is stronger among those students who worked on-campus, especially for those who worked their freshman year.  These students were more likely to indicate that they felt a sense of belongingness at DePaul, were more likely to believe that coming to DePaul was the right decision for them, and had a higher percentage of agreement that they would re-enroll at DePaul if given the choice again.  However, after DePaul students have been retained into a second year previous on-campus employment does not immediately relate to higher third year retention rates.   At this point in a student’s career continuing or first-time campus employment during the second year plays a much greater role in third year persistence than whether or not they were previously employed on-campus.  Second year students who worked on-campus, regardless of whether or not they were employed on-campus their first year, are retained at very high rates, near 100% into a third year.  Finally, on-campus employment during the first and/or second year is related to greater overall graduation rates at the end of four years and high persistence rates into the fifth year.

Student involvement with their institution is linked to student persistence.  Attrition at DePaul and elsewhere is most frequent prior to the second year of college and student employment may be one way that the university can impact student engagement and persistence.  A causal relationship between on-campus employment, student affinity with DePaul, and persistence and graduation rates cannot be demonstrated using the secondary data sources this report relies on and the study does not attempt to explain or summarize the complex interactions that impact student persistence and graduation rates.  Rather, the above report simply explored the experiences of DePaul students with regard to on-campus employment, campus affinity, and retention/graduation rates.


[1] Source: OIPR Persistence/Graduation tables for Fall first time Freshmen cohorts 1996 through 2002.

[2] Source: OIPR from freshman cohorts from 1999 through 2002.