GW’s work-study funds shrink for fourth-straight year

The federal government has earmarked fewer work-study funds for the University every year since 2009, translating into a loss of almost $1.7 million for the University.

The amount has shrunk by 5 to 9 percent annually as students at other universities across the country have needed more post-recession aid. The government gave GW a total of $2.2 million this year, Associate Vice President for Financial Assistance Dan Small said.

“This is largely due to more schools demonstrating eligibility for work-study funding, though the total federal work-study allocation distributed by the Department of Education remains roughly the same,” Small said about the level of work study funds awarded nationally.

The average work-study amount for GW students – about $2,100 – has dropped 30 percent since it peaked at $3,000 in 2009, when the government pumped an additional $1 million into GW’s work-study budget. That year, GW had $3.8 million from the government to help pay students.

Though GW’s share of work study funds has dropped, its average award exceeds the national average award of about $1,600. That’s partly because the University pays 30 percent of salaries, while some colleges rely solely on federal funds for the positions.

The amount GW receives is far below those of its peer institutions, even those that are similar in size. Northwestern University, which also has about 10,000 undergraduates, received $5 million for its program as recently as 2012.

New York University, which has more than 22,000 undergraduates, received more than $8 million in federal work-study money as recently as 2012. Boston and Northeastern universities, with about 18,000 and 16,300 undergraduates, respectively, were each awarded about $5 million.

While the program is a small piece of students’ aid packages – comprising about 1 percent of federal aid last year, according to College Board – it benefits about 700,000 students across the country.

The amount of aid available has hovered around $1.1 billion since 2007, a total that includes both federal money and dollars matched by universities.

But the work-study system has drawn flak in recent months, with higher education policy advocates calling on the federal government to reform the way it distributes money.

About a quarter of work-study recipients come from families that make more than $80,000 a year, higher education news organization the Hechinger Report found, and about half attend private, nonprofit institutions.

Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, said the work-study program has failed to live up to the spirit of the law that created it. He said in his experience many work-study students “don’t seem to really be poor, and some don’t seem to be working very hard.”

“It’s a program that needs to be explored…whether it’s really being effective to low-income students,” Vedder said. “A lot of money is getting dissipated at the top. Too much of the money is not being concentrated where it was originally intended to be concentrated.”

Fewer than half of work-study students nationwide meet the federal definition of financial need, which takes the cost of attendance and a family’s financial circumstances into consideration.

Small said the University does not report the average family income of students who participate in work-study.

GW lost about $80,000 in federal work-study money last year after Congress failed to prevent sweeping spending cuts known as the sequester. Small said in August that the 3.6 percent reduction at GW impacted few students.

Since the program is part of financial aid packages, students lose their eligibility for work-study if their financial situation changes. That’s what happened to junior Magdalena Stuehrmann, who had used her job freshman and sophomore year to help pay for tuition and study abroad.

“I was very irritated and disappointed that I didn’t get it this year,” Stuehrmann said, adding that work-study jobs give students a sense of financial security.

– Brianna Gurciullo contributed to this report.

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