Working - again. That is the most widespread of the changes in how today's college students live as tuition costs climb and student financial aid shrinks: Far more students are working part time, according to officials contacted at colleges nationwide.
Working one's way through school is nothing new. But it is a renewal of old ways that fell out of fashion in the laid-back years of plenty in the 1960s and 1970s.
Dark-haired Kenneth Holmes is a senior at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. He has worked to put himself through five years of college with the help of a General Electric Corporation cooperative engineering program, which picked up his tuition bills. Ken's parents had to pay for only a small chunk of his freshman-year tuition.
Ken says he sacrificed a ''normal'' college life by being in the co-op program, where he would work one semester and attend school the next. But, he says, the work experience was well worth it. Like many students now, Ken was wary of saddling his parents with the cost of his education.
''My folks expected to have to put me through school, but I didn't want to put the burden on them,'' Ken says. ''Things aren't as easy for my parents as they could be.''
''Students are more aware of the sacrifices being made for them by their parents,'' says John Drahmann, an academic adviser to liberal arts students at the small University of Santa Clara near San Francisco. ''They're concerned about finishing school on time, and many of them are now carrying the maximum academic load that they can.'' They finish up early if possible, says Dr. Drahmann. Says Ken Holmes, ''A lot of students are taking school a lot more seriously.''
''When students see the sacrifices their parents are making, they feel even more pressure to be successful,'' says Susan Brady, dean of student life at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. ''The stress factor has doubled.''
As a college diploma gets more expensive, more students are deciding that a gold-plated sheepskin isn't worth the time, money, or effort. Some students who 10 years ago would have been expected to go to college are not. Others are working a year and then going to college.
Ken Holmes says seniors who go to the placement center at the University of New Hampshire quickly find out there aren't many job slots to be filled after graduation.
''When I get out of college, I just hope all my effort is worth it,'' says Linda Losacano, a UNH junior from Concord, N.H. Linda mans the telephone at the dean of students office some 25 hours during the week, then works two other jobs when she goes home to Concord one weekend a month: Friday and Saturday nights she works at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, and weekend days she baby-sits a disabled child.
Despite her work schedule, she also sings in a folk group that rehearses every Thursday night and is floor representative to her dorm government. So Linda says she doesn't feel that she is missing any part of college life by working.
On the contrary, she finds it enriching in more ways than one: ''It gets me away from studying, it's a change of pace. It's like having another life,'' she says.
Others aren't so sure that working students don't miss out. Karl Furstenberg, dean of admissions at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., has argued against what's called an ''admit-deny'' policy: Colleges will admit a student if he or she qualifies academically, even if the college has no financial aid left to offer.
''[That policy] makes those students a different class of students,'' says Mr. Furstenberg. ''It affects the nature and quality of the educational experience by putting an unusual financial pressure on the student.''
Ken Holmes says he would have only been an average student if he'd had to work a lot while taking classes. With his work-study program he has a 3.85 grade point average (on a four-point scale). He didn't take part in a lot of college activities until this, his last, year.
''I could have done them, but I wouldn't have done them well,'' he says. ''If you spread yourself too thin, you don't get the most out of what you're involved in.''
But he and Linda both praised the effect work has had on them. Says Ken, ''You have to work harder. You have to push yourself more. It disciplined me - I had to learn how to budget my time.''
A slow but steady shift is taking place in where students go to school. But no one knows for sure how much of the shift is due to economics and how much to changing demographics, says Pat Smith of the American Council on Education.
Private liberal arts schools are getting hit the hardest by what appears to be a shakeout of students down the educational ladder: from private universities to public universities; from public universities to community colleges, and so on to private trade schools.
Private colleges faced a 4.1 percent drop this fall in the number of freshmen who come right out of high school, while the number of potential 18-year-old freshmen dropped only 1.4 percent. In overall enrollment, the independent universities were down less than 2 percent.
The private schools' loss has not translated into a gain for four-year state-supported universities: They are down about 1.4 percent. But enrollment has increased at community colleges, about 1.2 percent, according to preliminary figures from the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges (AACJC).
And even more students would be enrolled, some say, if two-year public colleges had the room and the funds to accept more students.
Dale Parnell, president of the AACJC, says that while most of the schools he represents have students lined up at the door waiting to get in, state funding goes only so far. And when state reimbursement runs out, the door slams shut. Instead of leaving students out in the cold, some colleges are finding more money from other sources. For example, Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Mass., is swinging its doors open at night for students who are willing to pay nonstate subsidized tuition for popular classes in fields such as nursing and computer science, where jobs are readily available.
''We live by our private wits after 5 o'clock and operate as a public institution during the day,'' says Northern Essex president John Dimitry.
''The private vocational schools are growing like mad,'' he says. ''People are so desperate for jobs they'll go wherever they can to get job training.'' Enrollment in trade schools is up an estimated 25 percent this year, says spokeswoman Sue King of the Association of Independent Colleges and Schools.
But whether at a small private college or a massive state-supported university, students are subtly changing life styles to meet the demands of today's economy.
At Alma College in Alma, Mich., business at the once-packed student snack bars is down 25 percent over a year ago. There are fewer empty pizza boxes in the trash barrels; vending machine business is off one-third from last year.
''The students eat more in the dining hall,'' says food services manager Paul Haus, explaining that they are eating food that they've already paid for instead of spending freely on late-night munchies. He also says students are eating 30 percent more dormitory breakfasts, ''maybe because they didn't eat out late the night before, and they're hungry in the morning.''
At Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, the cooperative work-study programs (work one semester, attend classes one semester) are changing. The original purpose behind co-op education was to give a student work experience in his chosen field of study. But students in low-paying fields such as theater or art now are opting for higher-paying co-op jobs in corporations or banks simply to make next term's tuition payments. And the traditional one-quarter-on, one-quarter-off is stretching to consecutive quarters of working for the same reason.
Clubs and campus organizations are losing their attraction for students who may not have the money to join. For example, graduate student Sarah Goldstein of the University of Missouri at Kansas City recently turned down an offer to join Phi Delta Kappa National Honor Society because she couldn't afford the $60 membership fee.
Meanwhile, attendance at free campus activities is up at the Rolla campus of the University of Missouri - free movies, backgammon tournaments, and classical music concerts. And UMKC student Michael Temporal is fighting to keep down the ticket price for speeches there in hopes of attracting more people to hearing outside ideas.
Rolla senior Daryl Seck says more students are staying on the small, mid-Missouri campus during weekends now: Trips home or to St. Louis are fewer and farther between.
Retrenching, regrouping, tightening seems to be the order of the day, but across the country, students and educators are trying to make the best of it. Asked whether the added pressure and competition of working and going to school was good or bad, New Hampshire's Ken Holmes smiled and was quiet for a moment.
''It's making better engineers.''