Theses Doctoral

The impact of term-time working on college outcomes in China

Guo, Fei

This dissertation study focuses on a current and controversial phenomenon in Chinese universities and colleges--student working during academic semesters. The massification of Chinese higher education since the year of 1999 raises the level of competition in the job market of college graduates. More and more undergraduate students participate in work while enrolled, with a hope that the working experience could help them perform better in the job market. However, working during academic semesters might be harmful to students' educational achievement since it may occupy their time and energy for studying. In addition, it may not be able to provide students with valuable practical trainings, as many term-time jobs are low-skill and labor-intensive jobs. Therefore there is an increasingly passionate debate among educational policy makers on whether higher education institutions should encourage students to work during term time. The current Chinese literature consists of mostly sub-national descriptive studies with weak research design that provide little in-depth investigation on this issue. This dissertation is the first empirical study of the impact of term-time working on students' academic performance and early post-college labor market outcomes in Chinese four-year universities and colleges, using much more detailed national data and more advanced methods.
The study employs a sequential explanatory mixed-method research design, involving both quantitative and qualitative methods. In the quantitative analysis, two quasi-experimental strategies including Instrumental Variable and Propensity Score Matching are used to identify the causal impact of term-time working on college outcomes. The data was collected by Tsinghua University in 2011 with a nationally representative sample of 49 institutions and 6,977 graduating students. A qualitative analysis is conducted to explore students' perceptions about the gains and losses from term-time working, in order to explain the quantitative findings. The qualitative data was collected from interviews with 18 working college students in 2 higher education institutions of different types.
Overall, the study finds that working during term time has become a prevalent activity among undergraduate students in four-year universities and colleges in China. The quantitative analysis reveals that term-time working decreases students' academic performance, but increases the probability of being offered a job before graduation, though does not influence the starting salary for those who are offered a job. Such impacts vary for term-time work-study jobs, part-time jobs, and internships. Students in non-elite institutions are more vulnerable to the influence of working than those in elite institutions. The qualitative analysis reveals that students' term-time working behavior is primarily motivated by their financial need and eagerness of gaining social and practical experience, but is constrained by time availability. Term-time working influences students' academic performance through the impact on time allocation and management, and the impact on students' attitude and commitment towards studying. Students may gain valuable practical knowledge and skills and positive work attitudes in working, which contributes to their employability and competitiveness in the labor market. They may also be able to form clearer career goals through working in college. Students' motivation and job characteristics may influence their gains and losses from working. These findings have significant implications for educational policies regarding term-time working in Chinese four-year universities and colleges.


  • thumnail for Guo_columbia_0054D_12169.pdf Guo_columbia_0054D_12169.pdf application/pdf 2.04 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Economics and Education
Thesis Advisors
Tsang, Mun C.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014