political leaders in Washington, D.C. continue to battle over how to deal with the
nation’s ongoing economic crisis, millions of college students are back in
school trying to manage their own financial crisis—the increasing cost of
college tuition and fees continue to rise well above inflation and the price of
other goods and services—a relentless trend we’ve seen for the past three
decades. The most recent data available indicate that freshman who started
their education at a public four year college in 2009 saw their tuition and fees rise by an
average of $555
(a 7.9 percent increase above inflation) by the time they started their sophomore
college costs increasing and aid diminishing, it is critical that we protect
existing student aid programs and ensure they’re reaching the students with the
greatest financial need. Federal Work Study (FWS) is one such program that
needs attention and scrutiny if it is to remain an effective support for
the bleak picture of financial aid and exceptionally high unemployment rates,
especially for young people and individuals without a postsecondary credential,
FWS remains a valuable asset for low-income students. The program helps these students
pay for their education through part-time employment. In particular, colleges
and universities that receive FWS funds “award” a certain amount of money to
eligible students, who then look for work study jobs to earn their award.
study jobs also provide benefits to students that regular jobs can’t offer,
such as more flexibility. Employers cannot schedule work hours during students’
class time and, according to the statute, work study jobs should, “reinforce
the educational program or vocational goals of each student receiving
program has only become more important as students have lost other forms of
support. The Summer Pell, an
indispensable grant for many low- and moderate income students, was eliminated in
2010. Millions of low- and moderate-income students are also seeing their state
grants slashed or eliminated as a result of state budget shortfalls. At least
half the states made
significant cuts in higher education for the 2012 fiscal year.
although college enrollment has soared and state budgets have tightened, FWS
funding has remained stagnant, falling far short of student demand. Federal
Work Study constitutes only one percent of total undergraduate student aid. In
2007-08, 7.4 percent of undergraduates received FWS. Yet 75 percent of
postsecondary students worked regular jobs while being enrolled that same year,
and among those working, about two thirds (63 percent) said they could
not afford school without work.
its importance, a closer look at who benefits from FWS reveals that
considerable program changes are needed in order to ensure the program is reaching
the students with the greatest financial need.
the FWS allocation formula does not give proper weight to the percentage of
low-income students enrolled at an institution. Colleges enrolling the largest
numbers of low-income students are receiving disproportionately lower amounts
of FWS funding. Community colleges, which enroll the largest percentage of
dependent students from modest backgrounds received only 13 percent of FWS
disbursements in the same year. By comparison, private non-profit four-year
universities, which enrolled only 12 percent of students from low-income
backgrounds in 2007-08, received 46 percent of FWS funds. Not surprisingly, while 3.4 percent of
community college students held a work-study job in 2007-08, 22.8 percent of
private non-profit four-year students held a work-study job. In fact, eight of
the ten top recipients of FWS disbursements in 2007-08 were private non-profit
four-year institutions, most of which have incredible wealth (Table 1).
problem of inequitable access between institutions becomes magnified by the
fact that eligibility rules do not ensure that only low-income students receive
FWS. To be eligible, students must demonstrate “financial need”, which is measured
through the total cost of attendance minus the family’s estimated ability to
pay. The very high cost of some institutions - an average of $36,993 for
private non-profit four-years in 2010-2011 - means that even students from high-income
families can have financial need. A quick look at the private institutions with
the highest FWS funds shows that in 2007-08 they had more recipients of FWS
awards than Pell Grant recipients, indicating that a good portion of their
funds were distributed to students with greater means.
order to address current shortcomings within the FWS program, there are a few
smart steps we can take. Allocations to FWS should be increased to meet the
demand for the program and help students access the financial aid they need to
complete their credentials. In addition, the allocation formula should be
changed to ensure that the program reaches those students who need it the most.
it is important that FWS funding increases to match the growing demand, it is
just as important that the funds be directed to the neediest students.
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Viany Orozco is a policy analyst at
Lucy Mayo is the interim director of the
Economic Opportunity Program at Demos.