Work Study Losses Create Ripples

By Staff

Little more than half a year after round one of the federal budget sequester went into effect, students and communities are feeling the cuts to student aid like the work study program. The sequester enacted March 1 cut $51 million from the Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program, which provides funding for part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students that qualify for financial aid.

An estimated 33,000 students were eliminated from participating in the program for the 2013-14 academic as a result. Round two of the sequester is a real possibility should Congress fail to act in the few weeks to avert further cuts. If the next round of cuts comers to pass, even more work study will be on the chopping block.

FWS is one of many forms of federal aid that will likely be discussed at an upcoming Senate hearing on Thursday. Since the great recession, multiple rounds of cuts to the FWS program have adversely affected over a hundred thousand students.

Joe Kennedy, a sophomore at Mott Community College in Flint, Mich., is one of them.

Kennedy enjoyed his FWS job at an ice rink during his first semester at Adrian College in Adrian, Mich., working up to 20 hours a week. Halfway through the semester, though, he was forced to switch jobs and work in general campus employment for only 10 hours a week.

Because his work-study aid decreased as tuition increased, he had to transfer.

“I 100% left for financial reasons … I would go back for my friends,” Kennedy says.

This year at Mott, Kennedy has faced similar challenges.

Although he interviewed for a position with public safety, the mandatory two-day orientation for potential work-study students conflicted with his class schedule. Coupled with stiff competition for two slots, Kennedy decided it was not worth continuing the application process.

In 2009, more than 768,000 students received FWS jobs. By 2012, that number dropped 11% to 683,000 FWS jobs.

Other students have seen their FWS award amounts reduced over the years.

Last year, Terjuna Minor, a sophomore at Johnson University, worked 10 to 15 hours a week as a library assistant. However, her FWS award this year allows her to work only eight hours a week.

“Not being able to get hours really does affect me for my situation because I pay out of my pocket … My parents don’t pay for my education,” Minor says.

FWS budget cuts have also taken their toll on local communities. Institutions that participate in the FWS program are required to use 7% of their total allocation to fund community-service-oriented jobs.

Allison Reavis has witnessed the devastating effects of FWS cuts on local communities firsthand as the literacy programs director at the Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education (SCALE).

FWS recipients work as tutors for local students as part of SCALE’s America Reads program. During the 2010-11 school year, the program employed 50 undergraduate tutors and 12 graduate students. Due to FWS cuts, only 32 undergraduate tutors and no graduate students at SCALE work there this year.

“Seventy less students at the local schools receive tutoring … since the 2011 cuts,” Reavis says.

Asher Strickland, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who works as a SCALE tutor, found that tutoring training has been reduced after the cuts.

“I feel like when decisions are … made when it’s time to cut funds, education programs are hit first because we don’t have many people come in and observe how valuable work-study is to students,” Strickland says.

Of the many types of federal aid available, Sara Goldrick-Rab, associate professor of educational policy studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is surprised there is not more political support for the FWS program.

“Work-study is one of these programs that I think should be more politically popular than it is. … The students they get are willing to work for their financial aid,” Goldrick-Rab says.

Brianna McCabe, a junior at Monmouth University, had to take on an additional job because her work-study hours were also reduced this year. Despite struggling to balance her two jobs with classes, McCabe praises the FWS program.

“I like work-study and I’m glad I’m a part of it,” McCabe says.