Work Study is something we’ve all seen everywhere: that one question on our FAFSA forms that lots of us fill out every year. But what is Work Study? For those who do not know what Work Study is, it is a way to “earn a portion of your financial aid assistance by working part-time, either on campus or with participating community-based partners off campus”, according to the FRCC website. Indeed, FRCC is no stranger to Work Study, as they offer dozens of Work Study job positions to virtually anyone who is a student on campus.
And yet for a number of years, the amount of people who have been employed under Work Study has decreased year to year. In an interview with Jennifer Cummins, the Financial Aid Coordinator of FRCC’s Larimer Campus, she was asked why that might be. She responded: “I wonder if it has to do with other opportunities. Until recently, our positions started off at the state minimum wage. At the end of February, our starting pay increased to $16.00 per hour, which is much more competitive.”
NUMBER OF WORK STUDY APPLICANTS*
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Cummins stated that the college has “been doing outreach and we’ve been emailing eligible students … [and] also created new positions” to try to increase the number of applicants who apply for Work Study.
These lower numbers may have to do with the requirements needed to apply for the Work Study program. According to the FRCC website, students must have applied for the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid,” been eligible to receive financial aid from it, must “be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen”, must be currently enrolled for at least 6 credit hours for the semester, have a high school diploma (or an equivalent, such as a GED), must meet FRCC’s Financial Aid standards, and, finally, must not “be in default of a student loan or owe repayment on a federal grant” at an academic institution.
This is a hefty list of requirements. However, aside from these requirements, Work Study also has posed some unique challenges faced by students.
In an interview with Chana Amaro, who works at the Coffee Den, she acknowledged her own challenges, responding that “the downside to it [applying for Work Study] is just, like, you have to be awarded from Financial Aid to get a Work Study, and that can be really hard for that, or it can be a really long process.”
She continued, detailing her experiences with applying for the College Hill Library on the Westminster campus: “I personally had a little bit of a difficult time. I originally was gonna work at the library, but they wouldn’t hire me because I didn’t have a Work Study. … When I applied for the café, and when I got awarded the Work Study, I was gonna apply for the library again, but they already were full, so I had to work here.”
Meanwhile, Maggie Hernandez, who works at our College Hill Library, answered that “the one downside was that it takes quite a while for HR to get all your paperwork together.”
Despite these challenges, Work Study does provide a large number of benefits for those who successfully apply for it.
For those who had said no to Work Study on their FAFSA form, Jennifer Cummins provided the information that “applying to a work-study job will send your file to the financial aid office to have your eligibility reviewed, and if eligible you will be given a work-study offer. That offer becomes approved once you are successfully onboarded as an employee.” In other words, if someone says no to applying for Work Study on their FAFSA form, the financial aid department can change the form to be eligible for Work Study.
Jennifer Cummins also discussed how a Work Study job can bring benefits far into the future for apprentice-like positions, saying that a “Work Study award can be very attractive to employers and people in that industry. It benefits the supervisors to have students who are knowledgeable in their fields.”
Cummins also listed additional advantages to Work Study: “It’s also convenient to both go to campus for college and a job. The pay frequency is the same [as a regular job]: every couple weeks.”
The convenience factor is echoed by both Chana and Maggie. Chana had applied for Work Study because “it is very flexible with my hours, and being a college student, you know, I need to have time to study so having a Work Study’s super nice … they also, like, prioritize my studies as well, not just work.”
She continued on to say that her hours give her time “to go home and just, like, you know, study and just focus on my work … [In a normal job], I have to worry about, like, ‘oh, well, I can’t study on this day because of my hours’, or like they’ll switch my schedules a lot and everything like that. So it’s really nice to work somewhere where it’s in the school on campus and where they keep your schedule, like, consistent.”
Maggie repeated this sentiment: “I get to finish pretty much all of my homework while I’m working. I also get to have easy access to all of the books for research for classes and stuff. … It’s very convenient cause I’m already on campus so I can walk from class to work in two minutes. And, yeah, there’s not that many downsides [to the job] honestly.”
If a student likes their job enough and wants to apply for it again come the next semester/school year, Jennifer Cummins also said that students are allowed to apply for the same Work Study position again. This is, of course, provided that the same position is open when the next semester comes by.
As if this were not enough, Ms. Cummins also said several students hold two Work Study positions, though they cannot average over 20 hours between both jobs, and the Work Study award amount needs to be split (though not necessarily evenly) between the two positions. She also advised that it is the student’s responsibility to make sure they are not going over 20 hours a week, whether they work at one or multiple positions.
She, however, does check for people who go over their hours/award amount and sends an email to the student and their supervisor if they are halfway or three-fourths through that student’s award amount. In the cases where the award amount is exceeded, Ms. Cummins “may have Payroll move some of their wages from work-study to the budget of the department where they’re working, to remain in compliance with financial aid regulations.” She also laid out that it is okay if students occasionally go over 20 hours, so long as the average amount of hours worked does not exceed 20.
On February 9th this year, Matt Jamison, the Interim Vice President for Enrollment Services and Student Success, sent an email out that provided information that, because of a market analysis, a wage increase was due for all student workers: beginning “with the March 24th paystub”, “all student employees will see their pay increase to $16 per hour.” This was an increase from the hourly rate before, which was Colorado’s minimum wage.
The response to this increase in pay was incredibly positive, to say the least.
Maggie Hernandez responded that “[the wage increase] was great! I mean, it was, like, pretty hard to maintain my bills from before, and now it’s definitely been very helpful.”
Chana Amaro responded eagerly to this as well: “That makes me really happy, especially since things are getting really expensive at the moment and especially tuition keeps going up! So I think that’s really important to have our wages go up even as students, ‘cause some of us, we don’t have time to, like, look for a full time job, you know, that pays better.”