Bringing student careers to reality through Federal work-study

by Raneen El-Barbarawi / Staff Reporter

The office of Career Development located at Wabash 324. Photo by Raneen El-Barbarawi.

For decades, undergraduate students have been struggling with trying to pay for school expenses while maintaining a job. It wasn’t until the federal work-study program was issued in the mid-1960s that students were allowed to earn money through part-time or full time on-campus employment jobs while still paying their educational expenses. 

The Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program is a program issued by colleges and universities to assist all students that are eligible for financial aid. A student is considered eligible once they fill out their FAFSA form and show some type of financial need to qualify. If a student qualifies, they are then given the option to either accept or deny their federal work-study funds. The funds are given by the government to allocate to the students from the university/college. 

According to the Roosevelt University website, an undergraduate student is eligible for work study if they are enrolled in the current term for a minimum of six credit hours and are seeking a degree/certificate. A graduate student is eligible if they are enrolled in the current term for a minimum of three credit hours. 

Students are typically issued around $4,500 yearly at Roosevelt University. If a student exceeds this limit, the student may continue working, as Roosevelt pays the remaining wages from university funds.

Students can typically earn about 13-14 dollars an hour and are eligible to work on campus for 10-15 hours a week at Roosevelt University. Payroll then issues the money to students on a bi-weekly basis. There are also some jobs that run on stipend checks. 

“I think Roosevelt has a really robust work study program,” said Shari Jones, an academic advisor for undergraduate students at Roosevelt.

There is a special place in the FAFSA for “Need-Based Aid” so that student’s federal work-study earnings will not be taken into account in the Department of Education determining their financial aid need. Therefore, it doesn’t determine if a student receives less or more money. 

Jones mentioned that in her previous school, there wasn’t an option for financial aid to pay for work-study, and when she was an undergraduate student it wasn’t something that was utilized.

“It’s there to help students by giving them work experience and get acclimated with what students have to do after college,” said Jones. “Federal work-study gives students a hands-on experience with working with different people, and students can adjust to that in the future by gaining early on skills that can prepare them for the real world.”

Students at Roosevelt can apply for jobs (typically within their major) through the Career Central website. Once a student is hired, they must complete an onboarding session. This requires filling out federal and state W-4 forms and completing section one of the I-9 form as well as filling out a direct deposit form and signing a paper timesheet form. They also must go over the student employment handbook and bring two forms of identification (unless they just bring their passport.) However, international students cannot qualify for work study. They are, however, eligible to apply for non-work-study positions.

The office of Career Development, located in Wabash Room 324, handles all student-employment issues and assists/manages the student employment program by working in collaboration with offices like HR, payroll, international student services, and financial aid. These offices then must work together to submit an EPAF (electronic personnel action form) to pay students. 

According to the office of Career Development, almost 900 students qualified for Federal work-study in the 2018-2019 year, and there were approximately 670 campus positions. However, only 260 students utilized federal work-study.

According to the Department of Education, approximately 3,400 institutions participate in federal work-study in the USA. For the 2016-2017 year, roughly 700,000 students, or 1 in every 10 full-time first-year undergraduates, received federal work-study each year. With a yearly cost of about one billion, the grants cover up to 75 percent of the student employee wages. 

Felicia Foster, a Financial Aid Services Counselor, explained that she wears three hats regarding federal work-study. She does general counsel duty, which entails reviewing and awarding students based on FAFSA eligibility and making sure that students working FWS positions are truly eligible for the program. She is the Financial Aid Approver for student employment hiring across the university. Lastly, she operates as the federal work-study supervisor for student workers in the Financial Aid Services department.

“I love the federal work-study program because it gives students a glimpse of what it is like in the workplace before they graduate,” said Foster. “It’s is a good way to make extra cash even for students who already have a job outside of Roosevelt University.”

She explained that it is a common misconception that graduate students are ineligible for work study. A graduate student can in fact be eligible for work-study if they show some type of financial need and accept the reward. 

Foster also explained that, as a former student worker at both Roosevelt University and another institution, both her best and less-than-favorable student worker stories helped her learn life lessons to get where she is today.

“Federal work-study can help students learn important skills such as interpersonal skills, customer service, time-management, leadership, etc,” said Foster. “These skills can translate across different areas in life.” 

However, students like Jasmine Jathool, a 19-year-old sophomore majoring in psychology who works for SAFAC and is a federal work study student, spoke on the lack of communication and the difficulty of being hired on-campus.

“Federal work-study is like a hit or miss,” said Jathool. “You’d have to have the connections to get the job.”

Jathool went on to explain what she would she would like to see changed in the program.

“Employers need to reply back to the students and expand their opportunities so it could be easier to get a job instead of spending so much time applying to jobs to not get accepted or even qualified,” said Jathool. 

Jones explained how federal work-study can adjust its program to expand its diversity.

“They should have more options/partners and opportunities to make it more diverse to work within the program,” Jones said.  



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