Layoffs and Furloughs: The Pandemic’s Impact on On-Campus Employment

The lasting ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic are many: deaths, short-term and long-term health problems, social distancing, and much more. Mass job loss stands out as one of the most damaging impacts, affecting everything from the live entertainment industry to restaurants. And one of the demographics hardest hit by job loss? College students.

On-campus employment has long served as both a financial and professional development route for students. University student unions and centers, food halls, sports venues and facilities, event spaces, and more have all historically employed students. Not only do students earn extra income from on-campus employment, they also learn more about themselves, their passions, and their potential career future. But the COVID-19 pandemic has cut on-campus employment to critical levels.

At the beginning of the pandemic shutdown in the US, schools furloughed and laid off student employees, including Boston UniversityUC San Diego, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And even as schools reopen, furloughs and layoffs continue. On-campus employment at schools such as Michigan State University, the University of PortlandUNC-Chapel Hill, the University of South Florida, and Syracuse University have been reduced in areas such as at retail locations like book stores, housing, and dining halls. 

revealing piece in Technician, the student-run news outlet for North Carolina State University, shows how students are responding and adapting to job cuts. For those students, employment opportunities are limited even at retail, business, and dining locations off campus. And if the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and dread weren’t enough, some students have moved back home due to the lack of jobs available. 

These cuts have a direct impact on students’ financial well-being and professional development. With many students required to take out loans to even attend college, immediate income is often limited. Student jobs typically pay minimum wage to a few cents or dollars above minimum wage, depending upon the position. Those positions being cut directly hits a student’s wallet, making it even more difficult to budget in a semester. And without those positions, students lose entry-level looks into possible career paths, potentially altering the course of their entire future. And the job loss could feed into anxieties for future job prospects, a detriment to student mental health in an already taxing time. 

The staggered fall reopenings have at least alleviated the job cuts and furloughs at some schools. Notably, the University of Colorado-Boulder published a blog post about student jobs available, and job postings at other schools have appeared in the past few weeks. The future of on-campus employment hinges upon the widespread response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but for now, things may be slowly improving.


  • Steve Chaplin

    Steve Chaplin is managing editor of ACUI’s The Bulletin and manager of the ACUI College Union and Student Activities (CUSA) Evaluation Program. A former newspaper writer, editor, and manager, he has volunteered as a student mentor as a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and received awards for his writing and reporting from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Kentucky Education Association, and the Kentucky Press Association.

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