Economy attracts more CA applicants

Rebecca Olles

Although they often have to deal with emotional residents, order students to obey quiet hours or spend late nights patrolling their dorms or residential colleges, more Northwestern students are applying to be community assistants than ever.

CA applications increased by 18% this year, according to statistics compiled by the Office of Residential Life.

Free room and board can certainly be “a plus” in the economic recession, said Corrie Lazar , who was recently accepted as a NU community assistant.

Lazar, the youngest of three in her family, said her sister was a residential assistant at her college, which originally motivated Lazar to apply to be a CA.

“I would’ve applied regardless,” the Weinberg junior said. “(The economy) probably did add to how much I wanted to get the job – and I did want to get it no matter what. But it made me desperate to get the job.”

CAs save $12,000 in room and board per year, which was a motivation for many students to apply, said Virginia Koch, senior assistant director of residential life.

“When we ask students why they’re applying to be a CA, they talk about a lot of things, including maybe as an option to finance their education,” she said.

For McCormick freshman Jesse Lee, free room and board means he can use the savings to cover some of the costs he will owe from student loans, which can take longer to pay back in an economic recession.

“I won’t have to take out the Stafford loan and Perkins loan, which is something I have to pay back later,” he said. “It’s just less that my parents have to worry about and less paperwork.”

There also has been an increase in the number of CA applications from international students, Koch said. International students who do not receive financial assistance from the university, and students whose parents cover the majority of tuition benefit most from free room and board, she said.

Janna Kaplan, a Weinberg freshman, was accepted as a CA. She said she does not receive any financial aid from NU and also sees the position as not only a fun job to have but also a way to help out with extra costs that can put excess pressure on parents.

“Every penny that I’m getting from free room and board is going straight to benefit my parents,” she said.

No matter a student’s financial needs, saving money is a huge incentive, said Prof. Wendy Espeland, who specializes in cultural sociology.

“Even students who aren’t feeling the brunt of the economy might still feel in this climate that it’s not unseemly to be frugal,” she said. “Maybe people who didn’t apply for dire economic reasons still did it because it’s the thing to do, especially if students are going to graduate with a lot of debt.”

For those applying mostly for financial reasons, not receiving the position can be a letdown, Koch said.

“Some of them have talked about being disappointed that they didn’t get a job because they looked at it as a way to help out their family,” she said.

Graduate students who have previously been CAs or RAs at other schools also apply for CA positions for the financial benefits, Koch said.

“Just this year I was contacted by someone from Duke, Washington University in St. Louis, Michigan State and Northwestern who wanted to be CAs here,” she said. “If you’re looking at grad schools, it’s a great way to finance your education.”

But for others, the social benefits outweigh the monetary ones.

Music freshman Kevin Smith said while he considered the money, the chance to help people was another main reason he applied.

“I had a couple of friends who were CAs, and they told me that the financial thing is a big deal and there are great benefits through that,” he said. “But it also just interested me through a social standpoint as well.”

Koch said she understands the importance of the financial aspect but hopes students apply for other purposes.

“If somebody came in and said they’re only applying for financial reasons, we would question their motivation,” she said. “No matter how much we compensate people on these jobs, it’s a tough job.”

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