Stimulus ends, but work-study still strong

The University’s federal work-study funding increased for the 2010-11 school year, according to Director of College Aid Alicia Reyes, even though many colleges and universities are losing work-study dollars as federal stimulus money runs out.

By Jonathan Lai

As some universities and colleges around the country struggle with drops in Federal Work-Study funds of over 30 percent, the University’s federal work-study funding increased for the 2010-11 school year, according to Director of College Aid Alicia Reyes.

The number of students eligible for work-study at the University has not changed significantly, Reyes said, and the University has experienced “nothing like what other schools experienced,” in part because of the relatively little federal work-study funding the University received last year.

The Department of Education received $200 million in stimulus funds for the Federal Work Study Program for 2009, which led to slight increases in work-study funding for some colleges nationwide. But the non-renewable Recovery Act funds were unavailable this year, and many schools dropped back to pre-stimulus levels, worrying some students who rely on work-study funding at those schools.

New York University received 36 percent less federal funding for work-study this year compared to last year, according to the Washington Square News, NYU’s student newspaper. George Washington University’s (GW) GW Hatchet reported a drop in federal work-study funding of 34 percent.

The Hatchet reported that one GW sophomore, Matt Freeman, couldn’t find a work-study job after losing the one he had last year. “This year, I applied to seven different work-study jobs but I was unable to get any offers back,” Freeman said.

Nationwide, the cuts in work-study translate to a loss of over 162,000 work-study jobs—and that number may go as high as 768,000 jobs, according to an article in the U.S. News and World Report.

But Reyes said the University of Chicago actually received slightly higher federal work-study funding this year. While the precise figures were unavailable, Reyes estimated an increase of around $100,000 from over $2.7 million for the 2009-2010 academic year to almost $2.9 million this year.

Each September, the University submits an application to the Department of Education for the Federal Work-Study Program, along with a report of how work-study funds were used in the previous year, Reyes said. The requests are evaluated, and tentative decisions are received in the spring for work-study funding. The final award decision arrives in late March or early April, Reyes said.

The reason for the University’s relative stability in work-study funding is two-fold, according to Reyes. The University didn’t get much stimulus funding last year, and the total work-study allotment overall was relatively small compared to other schools.

Some schools turn down money, Reyes said, which schools can apply for as supplemental funding. The University received some of that funding for this year, she said, “so we made up in a sense what we lost [this year] through the stimulus.”

The total work-study funds are distributed by the University to undergraduate and graduate students. The Office of College Aid names about one thousand undergraduate students eligible for work-study, a number that takes into account the number of students who will not make full use of their work-study eligibility. “We know there are certain students that will choose not to work. Some students will choose jobs that are not work-study eligible, and others won’t work the entire year,” Reyes said.

Work-study jobs are critical for students, according to Jake Stillwell, communications director at the United States Student Association, a group that lobbies for students on local and national issues.

“The unemployment rate for young people is already well above the national average, and when you look at it for students of color, it’s even worse; without the work-study jobs there, the chances of getting a part-time job are really small,” he said. “When you just take what you can get, you don’t get to take time off or change your hours for exams, or classes, or anything like that. It’s a bad situation in general, you get more flexibility from a work-study job where they understand you’re a student.”