The Federal Work-Study program is a type of financial aid that provides on and off campus jobs for college students with financial need. Of all of the financial aid programs offered by the federal government, work-study is one of the most admirable and idealized, designed with the intent of providing funds as well as invaluable career experience for students.

However, there are many people may not know about work-study, along with some controversy involved with the program. So to get you up to speed, we’ve compiled some of the most important facts and figures regarding work-study.

The Federal Work-Study program dates back over fifty years.

That’s right, the Federal Work-Study Program was established 55 years ago as a portion of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 for the purpose of achieving three goals:

  1. To assist students in earning money to meet their educational costs
  2. To provide work experience related to the student’s chosen academic major or career field
  3. To improve relations between the University and the community.

Whether the program has met these goals adequately is a matter of continual debate, as we’ll see.

Work-study is easy to apply for, yet not all are eligible.

  • To apply for work-study, you must complete a FAFSA form before the deadline of the next academic year, which is around the end of June.  Of course, since work-study eligibility is dependent on financial need and funds are limited, many hoping to find an easy path to an on-campus job may not fit the requirements.
  • Just 600,000 students on average qualify for work-study per year compared to the 22 million that received Pell Grants for the 2017-2018 school year, to give you an idea of the exclusivity of the program. The Federal Student Aid website has a handy tool known as FAFSA4caster that can help you determine whether work-study will be part of your financial aid package, or not.

Work-study is small-scale compared to other federal financial aid programs.

Benefits from work-study are wide-reaching.

The pay and maximum hours granted from work-study are variable.

  • For undergraduates, work-study jobs are paid hourly, while graduate students may be paid a salary, depending on the position. Jobs are required to pay the $7.25 federal minimum wage, although individual schools set the exact pay, which usually exceeds minimum wage by a dollar or two.
  • Students can’t work as many hours as they wish, and are limited by those allotted by their individual work-study award. Usually, students are limited to working 20 hours a week.

Being awarded work-study doesn’t automatically mean that you have a job.

  • Though being granted work-study allows you to apply for jobs set aside exclusively for those in the program, you aren’t exactly guaranteed student employment. In most cases, you’ll have to fill out an application and pass an interview just like any other position.

Work-study earnings are taxable.

  • Despite the fact that money earned through work-study is a type of financial aid, work-study earnings are nevertheless taxed on a state and federal level. However, students enrolled full time in school and working part-time at a work-study position are exempt from FICA taxes according to the IRS.

Students should earn valuable career experience through work-study.

  • One of the main purposes of the work-study program is to provide awardees on-the-job experience while they attend school full time. While many work-study jobs are of the card-swiping variety, i.e., cafeteria cashier or fitness center desk attendant, and not necessarily that useful in the long run, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that work-study jobs are more likely to be aligned with a student’s major than jobs found outside of the program.
  • For the most part, it’s the student’s responsibility to scan the available work-study positions, usually conveniently posted on a school’s website, and choose one that they think while benefiting them the most. A school counselor can assist with this task.

Work-study is proven to increase a student’s chances of earning a bachelor’s degree and finding a job outside of school.

  • Does the Federal Work-Study program work in the way it’s intended? According to a 2017 study by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE), the answer is yes.
  • While work-study participation was shown to have a minor negative effect on the GPA of freshmen students (-0.02), continual involvement in the program is shown to have a positive effect on GPA in ensuing years and increases the student’s chance of graduating with a bachelor’s degree by about 3%.
  • The study also determined that prior participants in the work-study program are 2% more likely to be employed six years after initial enrollment.

The Federal Work-Study program is currently under fire in Washington.

  • For many in government, the age of the work-study program is the source of its problems and inefficiencies. In his 2019 budget proposal, President Trump advanced the notion of cutting the funding to the Federal Work-Study program and heavily restructuring it.
  • Trump is not alone in his proposed cuts to the program, work-study funding was cut by 10% under the Obama Administration.

Many claim that work-study funds are not distributed equally.

  • One of the main issues politicians and those in education find with the Federal Work-Study program is the inequitable nature of the dispersed funds. High-cost private schools and more well-known public institutions receive more than their fair share of funds compared to for-profit schools and community colleges due to an antiquated funding allocation formula.
  • The latter types of institutions of higher education draw a larger share of low-income students and are more in need of work-study funding, yet the formula doesn’t work to their benefit, In fact, community colleges in 2016 received just 15% of work-study funding despite serving nearly 40% of graduates.

Reforms have been proposed to the work-study program.

  • Both Republicans and Democrats have proposed overhauls to the formula for allocating funding to higher learning institutions through distributing more funding to schools with a higher percentage of students from low-income backgrounds and reducing the funding to wealthy private colleges.
  • However, due to general gridlock in Washington, little in the way of actual progress has been made in this area. Let’s hope for the sake of those with much to gain through participation in work-study that actual policy to improve the situation is written and passed in the coming years.