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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Hannah Bringhurst, one of 14,000 student employees, shelves used books at BYU.

PROVO — By 4:30 each morning, 23-year-old Stephanie Willoughby is already on campus, turning on lights, unlocking doors, vacuuming hallways and emptying trash cans.

"The hours are nice," the BYU senior said with a half-laugh. "They don't interfere with classes, and also, I was just trying to find a job, and this was one of the only ones open, so I took it."

Willoughby is one of thousands of BYU students who both work and study on campus. In fact, BYU's student employment rate reached record levels in November with 14,054 students pulling in a BYU-signed paycheck — nearly half of the university's total student body of 32,947.

BYU is far above the national employment average according to numbers from a May 2006 report from the American Council on Education's Center for Policy Analysis. The report found that only 10 percent of working students were employed by the college or university they attended, compared with the 67.5 percent of students who worked off-campus for a for-profit company.

BYU's employment numbers for undergraduates and graduates have gone up 25 percent since 2000, when only 11,200 students worked on campus, said BYU spokesman Todd Hollingshead.

"The overall perspective we take in offering student jobs is that it's a way to offer financial aid, in a way," he said. "It's an opportunity to have a job that's conveniently located on campus and make a wage while being in school."

And BYU's numbers will continue to climb because the university is dedicated to providing student jobs, especially given the less-than-favorable employment prospects off-campus.

The most common positions at BYU are teaching or research assistants, followed by custodians. Students also mow lawns, plant flowers, shelve books and scoop ice cream — everything it takes to keep a university running.

Up north, Utah State University students are quick to line up for the jobs of computer lab consultants, USU bookstore and office assistants, resident assistants and recreation center attendants, said Paula Johnson, human resource specialist in the USU student employment office.

However, the most coveted job is the summer position of scouting for exotic turtles. In Hawaii.

"That's the one my daughter wants," Johnson said with a laugh.

Utah State, with a student population slightly over 25,000, paid 6,354 student employees last year. That number has increased recently, as the University has worked to bounce back after a series of layoffs and budget cuts nearly a year and half ago, Johnson said.

USU also offers a work study program, which allows departments to hire student employees and pay 25 percent of their salary, while USU financial aid pays the remaining 75 percent. Johnson said they award 400 to 500 work-study grants each year.

At the University of Utah, 20 percent of all students, graduate and undergraduate, work at the university, or 6,356 students out of 31,099. Considering only graduate students raises the employment rate to 44 percent, while undergraduates alone represent 13 percent of university employees, according to the university's Division of Human Resources.

In Ogden, Weber State had 1,101 student applicants for the 2010-11 year and ended up employing 991 of them, said John Kowalewski, Weber State spokesman. The majority of students work as assistants, clerks and aides.

Though she works on campus, Sheena Stucki frequently finds herself away from campus, like when she visits the Legislature or community gatherings.

As a presidential intern at Utah Valley University, Stucki is one of six seniors who was hired to work with President Matthew Holland and the school's vice presidents, in what she calls a "prestigious, out-of-the-ordinary" internship.

"With my vice president (Val Hale), our job is community engagement, so we go out into the community," she said. "It has opened up a lot of opportunities for me in a future career. I'm building my network right now, getting my name out there, building my resume."

Resume-building experiences are in high demand from all students, and each year nearly 1,700 UVU students are hired to work on campus.

Laura Carlson, manager of student employment at UVU, would love to hire 10,000 students a year, but working at a public university she's constrained by a lack of funding.

Of the 32,000 students enrolled at UVU, nearly 72 percent are employed, both on and off campus, and must work in order to stay in school, she said.

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, which reports to the U.S. Department of Education, college-age employment is increasing nearly every year, whether it's on or off campus. From 1970 to 2003, the percentage of employed 16- and 24-year-old college students rose from 33.8 percent to 47.7 percent.

Yet within UVU's working class, only 14 percent of students work on campus, vying for a spot as a professor's assistant/grader, or in student services, which includes student government, campus tours and the post office, Carlson said.

When possible, Carlson likes to get students working within their academic major, to better prepare them for life after graduation. But it may be that applicants for the Outdoor Education Department's "Adventure Troop Leader" are a bit more swayed by the excitement potential than resume building.

After training, the troop leader takes groups of students on back-country excursions, including cross-country skiing in American Fork Canyon and kayaking in Baja.

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Even far less thrilling jobs are still a hot commodity on campus. This year, Carlson received 100 applicants for a red-eye custodial position. That's a slight decrease from last year when 176 students applied for the same late evening/early morning cleaning shift.

"Students need to work, they want to work, and for a lot of them being a student is dependent on working," she said. "There has been a very strong demand on campus for jobs; however, we just don't have the number of positions open to meet current demands."

e-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com