For the 2016-17 academic year, 1,415 students were awarded federal work-study as part of their financial aid packages. Of those 1,415, only 30 percent — 429 — are employed in on-campus jobs. This means that 70 percent of work-study eligible students aren’t taking advantage of funding available to them.
The College of William and Mary was allocated $469,617 in federal work-study funding from the U.S. Department of Education for the 2016-17 academic year. Each year, the College puts in a request for a specific dollar amount, and based on past years’ allocation of work-study funds, the Department of Education decides how much it will contribute the next year.
The only metric the Department of Education monitors, however, is spending levels, so the success of the work-study program is measured in how much money is paid to work-study students, not in the quality of the on-campus jobs or how many work-study eligible students are awarded funding.
At the national level, only 16 percent of institutions awarded federal work-study money to every eligible student. The College falls within the 84 percent of schools that do not.
Director of Financial Aid Joe Dobrota said that the work-study program is designed to provide meaningful employment opportunities to students who qualify.
The program is designed to hopefully, if it’s designed well, give students a little bit more of a real work experience, as opposed to just be making copies and that kind of thing,” Dobrota said.
“The program is designed to hopefully, if it’s designed well, give students a little bit more of a real work experience, as opposed to just be making copies and that kind of thing,” Dobrota said.
However, while Dobrota said that the work-study program is designed to provide experiential learning employment opportunities to students and help them pay expenses, it is not designed to help cover upfront tuition payment costs.
“When we say pay for college, we don’t necessarily mean paying upfront, but paying for those incidentals which come up,” Dobrota said. “You know, helping with books, helping with living expenses that might come up during the semester, helping pay for rent, going to a movie once a month, or things like that.”
Dobrota said that taking into account how much higher education costs have risen, it is not really feasible anymore for students to fund their education through working part-time.
“Given current cost levels, work-study is definitely not something that would be able to replicate those old days of working at a pizza shop and working your way through college,” Dobrota said.
However, students like Meg Collins ’18, who qualifies for work-study, relies on the money she makes through her on-campus job to fund tuition costs.
“For me, [the money I earn] goes directly into my ability to fund my education,” Collins said. “This was something that I felt very responsible for, for taking the burden off of my parents particularly.”
Dobrotra said there is not a universal reason that work-study qualifying students choose to not seek on-campus employment.
“Just [from what I’ve heard] anecdotally, entering freshmen want to concentrate on school first, want to get adjusted to college life,” Dobrota said. “Once they realize that it’s not something that’s specifically going to pay their bill, they may opt to not work, to focus on academics, they may choose to fund it through other sources that doesn’t require them to work, or they choose to do a loan instead of working … It could be they’re happy to doing research with a professor, taking their time, extracurricular events that they don’t feel they want to pull away from to go work, could have parents that are helping fund those incidental expenses along the way, so lots of different reasons.”
In terms of outreach, the financial aid office includes work-study as part of each student’s financial aid package, and notifies qualifying students at the beginning of each academic year with information regarding what documentation they will need to be eligible to work on campus..
For incoming students who are not familiar with the College’s employment opportunities, this can be an unexpected burden. Collins, who works as a building manager in the Sadler Center and Campus Center buildings, said that she felt the frustration of not knowing what to do when first seeking employment.
“I never felt like I was guaranteed a work-study position. In fact, I applied for a couple different ones before I found the one that I’m in now,” Collins said.
When Collins realized that the program was structured so that she would have to go that extra mile to find a job, she said she was disappointed.
“There’s just a lot of uncertainty involved in it and a lot of work to put on the students themselves to go out and find it,” Collins said.
However, Collins said she still values the opportunity to work an on-campus job, and sees the skills she has gained from her job as valuable.
It definitely has helped me develop skills that are useful in any job,” Collins said. “So, I don’t know if I’ll go into something involving direct management of people, but there are definitely skills that I’ve developed through this job that will help me in any area of my life.”
“It definitely has helped me develop skills that are useful in any job,” Collins said. “So, I don’t know if I’ll go into something involving direct management of people, but there are definitely skills that I’ve developed through this job that will help me in any area of my life.”
Each school that receives work-study funding individually determines what awards are disseminated. At the College, throughout the summer, everyone who is eligible for work-study has potential earnings set to $1,900, a figure which represents about seven or eight hours a week of work throughout the semester. According to Dobrota, this represents a manageable work schedule for full-time students.
Unlike other schools, the College does not assign students to a specific work-study position; instead, students seek out on-campus employment opportunities. Federal program funds are used to pay 75 percent of the cost of student wages and the College is responsible for funding the other 25 percent. At the College, there are currently 1,659 students active in the on-campus job system, but only the work-study eligible students’ salaries — 26 percent of on-campus jobs — are partly funded by the government.
While all the College’s work-study funding has been utilized in previous years and Dobrota said he is concerned the College might not be able to fully match federal funding at its current level, he also said that the option to seek expansion of the work-study program is being considered.
“We have been able to actually spend all of the money so I think if we did too much then we would be in essence, overspending the program and not be able to offer for the full 75 percent match on those funds to help the offices that are employing these students.” Dobrota said. “Maybe it is time to ask for more. We’re demonstrating that we’re able to spend it, so maybe we can potentially get some more money from the government in the future.
Dylan Campbell ’17, an in-state, work-study eligible student, said he also experienced some of these difficulties when looking for on-campus jobs. His freshman year, he started working for Steer Clear, but found that it became increasingly difficult to sign up for shifts that worked with his schedule, and eventually quit in the fall semester of his junior year.
“I tried to find other work-study jobs, and I just couldn’t find any that late,” Campbell said. “It’s been really hard to find any jobs on campus, and a lot of them are things that are not entry-level positions, or you have to have experience with certain things that not everybody has.”
Campbell said that he wishes there were more resources available for students trying to find appropriate employment opportunities.
“I wish there was an office somewhere on campus where you could go and say, ‘I’m eligible for work-study and I wanted to use it, can you help me find something that I can do on campus?’” Campbell said. “I think that would be the most helpful and not an unreasonable thing to have.”
As Campbell sees it, the difficulties in finding on-campus jobs can create an unfair barrier for lower-income students.
“It definitely seems unfair because especially for the freshmen just coming in, and they’re going through all this new stuff, and now they also on top of that have to try to find a job on campus on their own, without any help, I think that really cuts down on opportunities for people to come [to the College],” Campbell said.
However, some students who don’t qualify for federal work-study funding, but still rely on working part-time to cover education costs, struggle with a lot of the same issues. Class of 2017 President Emily Thomas ’17 said that she falls in a frustrating category where her family makes enough money that she doesn’t qualify for a lot of financial aid, but doesn’t make enough for her to be able to attend the College without having a job.
“I’m very thankful for all my family has and very blessed that my family has the income that it does, but I learned very quickly freshman year that that put me in like this weird middle category where I can’t really do nothing, like I need this job, but at the same time I’m not really qualifying for any help from the school,” Thomas said.
For Thomas, this meant looking off-campus for employment, where she found a job at Barret’s Seafood Restaurant her freshman spring.
“That was a really tricky process to navigate for me, and it took me a lot of time to find success,” Thomas said.
Like Campbell, Thomas believes that having more resources for students seeking employment could be helpful.
“There seems to be a lot of just confusion about where to start … So if William and Mary had some sort of contact person sitting somewhere on campus who knew where students were working and which places were really accepting and understanding of students’ schedules, I think that would be super helpful,” Thomas said. “Because I know I applied to all the wrong places first and then I finally settled in with Barret’s.”
Thomas also expressed frustration with another aspect of being a student worker — the difficulty to succeed academically and to fully participate in campus life.
“I think that one the other hardest things about being an off-campus worker and being a full-time student is sometimes the students who have to work a lot fall through the cracks of William and Mary,” Thomas said. “We all have this stress culture, we all want to be involved in everything, and be the best on campus, and I think one of the hardest things for me, adjusting to William and Mary was realizing I can’t be in 19 clubs because I have to work three nights a week.”
Dobrota said that he is not sure why work-study eligible students decide to not pursue on-campus jobs, which he considers a smaller commitment.
“It’s not a big commitment, you now, there’s many jobs they could be doing,” Dobrota said. “So it’s definitely worth looking at and considering if they’ve been awarded it.”
Overall, the work-study program at the College represents a small portion of how students are funding their education. The office of financial aid focuses on ensuring each family has a strong awards package as a whole than on providing opportunities for work-study.
“I think what we’re doing in other aid sources offsets the fact that they may not be working,” Dobrota said. “The William and Mary promise, and meeting 100 percent of families’ need through a combination of current aid, loans and work.”
This aligns with how Collins said she sees work-study in the context of her ability to afford going to college.
“I’ve been super blessed in what the College has given to me in order to be able to come here,” Collins said. “Honestly there were some times when it seemed as though financially I just would not have been able to make it work, and the College has really done a good job of making sure that I didn’t have to. So, in my experience it hasn’t been an unfair distribution. I think that the work-study system in particular could be implemented better, but in terms of overall financial aid I really have no complaints.”