Over a half-million students rely on vanishing Work-Study jobs

A student studies outside the closed Wilson Library on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on August 18, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The school halted in-person classes and reverted back to online courses after a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases over the past week.

Melissa Sue Gerrits | Getty Images

Covid-19 has forced students off campus and left them without the college jobs they rely on for much-needed income.

Kaytria Land, a junior at Agnes Scott College in Georgia, learned in late July that she would not be returning to campus after the state continued to see 1,000 new coronavirus cases per day. One week later, she received an email stating she had lost her on-campus work-study benefits.

“It’s going to be hard to find work and I’m not really sure what I’ll do,” said Land, who relies on her work-study income to pay for books, food, and transportation.

Kaytria Land, Junior at Agnes Scott College in Georgia. Land worked as a student assistant in various non-academic offices on campus before losing her Federal Work-Study.

Land is one of over 560,000 students who depend on a Federal Work-Study (FWS) stipend, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators 2020 report. The average FWS award was nearly $1,900 for the 2017-18 academic school year.

In March, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance encouraging schools to continue paying their FWS students through the remainder of the spring and summer semesters, even if they were not working on campus.

However, the new academic year presents challenges.

Students prevented from beginning the term as a result of Covid-19 in Fall 2020 will not be eligible for Federal Student Aid and therefore, can not be paid FWS wages for hours they do not work, even if they held the position previously.

“In my experience, administrators in higher education are doing everything in their ability and are continually looking for ways to support FWS students,” said National Student Employment Association president Bridget Schwartz. 

“Due to budget constraints, shifts to virtual learning, and safety concerns for having staff on-campus, many colleges and universities are limited by the number of FWS students that they can hire this semester,” she said.

If you or someone you know has lost Federal Work-Study, here are some steps to take for the 2020-21 academic year. 

1. See if your school is organizing an “emergency aid grant.”

Students facing financial hardship should start by contacting their college’s financial aid office.

The CARES Act passed by Congress in March includes optional provisions allowing colleges and universities to transfer leftover FWS funding into the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) program, so money may be awarded to students as grants and emergency financial aid.

The emergency financial aid funds are used to help undergraduate and graduate students with “unexpected expenses and unmet financial need” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The law also states that any receipt of emergency aid will not reduce a student’s eligibility for need-based financial aid.

Colleges like Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts and Dickinson College in Pennsylvania have announced they will provide grants to replace work-study aid for some students in cases where they are learning online and cannot secure remote employment.

Alex Fuselier, a junior at Mount Holyoke College, said she will be a grant recipient this upcoming fall semester.

“I am still trying to work my previous position virtually, if possible,” said Fuselier. “But I am also trying to find an off-campus part-time job too, if possible, due to the decreased number of campus positions.”

2. Find an off-campus or remote work opportunity. 

If you are unable to work on-campus, broaden the search.

“In many cases, colleges are limited to the number of positions they can offer, which is not unlike the U.S. job market,” Schwartz said.

With the number of people filing for unemployment benefits jumping back above 1 million this week, students are not alone in feeling the stress of an extended employment crisis.

But Schwartz says you do not need to navigate the market alone.

Many colleges and universities use job posting platforms like Handshake and Quadjobs that post positions external to on-campus employment, Schwartz noted.

A student studies for classes at the kitchen table.

Source: Twenty20

Work study guidelines state qualifying employment can include community service options with non-profits, which means some work-study jobs are available for off-campus work, but eligibility may vary, so students should check with their financial aid office or student employment center..

“The heart of the FWS program is that it is an opportunity for the student to earn extra money in a part-time position,” Schwartz said. “Students should check with the school’s career center to get more information on platforms available to them to search for jobs, and be encouraged to cast a wide net when considering how to support themselves.” 

3. Try to avoid taking on more loans.

Check your financial aid package.

With limited job openings for students, some schools are issuing revised financial aid packages that rescind work-study aid entirely, and issue more loans.

“I will end up taking out more loans this semester than I have in past semester, no doubt about that,” said Lincoln Bohn, a senior at California State University, Chico. “I just don’t see a way to replace the income.”

Bohn lost his job in the Financial Aid office when his campus announced they would close campus for the semester.

But if students do need to take out more student loans, they will benefit this year from lower-than-typical interest rates for new federal student loans.

Rates for federal loans issued between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021 will be 2.75% for undergraduate Stafford loans, according to the May Treasury auction, down from 4.53% this year.

These rates will apply to any federal loans taken out for the upcoming school year and are fixed over the life of the loan.

4. Apply for unemployment.

Some students can now apply for unemployment through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

Full-time students are eligible for benefits if they can prove they worked part-time, have filed a tax return and are unable to work because of a reason related to Covid-19.

Even if claimed as a dependent on a parent’s tax return, the student can apply for state-determined benefits.

“Students just need to remember that unemployment for student employment will vary by state; not all states allow for unemployment for student employees,” Schwartz said. “Students should check with the state’s unemployment office.”

Check your state’s eligibility requirements here. 

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