Officials use survey to find out why students aren’t using federal work-study aid

GW is investigating why students opt to not use their federal work-study.

Officials have sent a series of emails this semester to students who didn’t use or declined their federal work-study aid in at least one of the last two academic years. GW’s top financial aid administrator said the survey will help officials understand how federal work study jobs impact academic performance, with an eye toward increasing GW’s retention rate.

The survey asked students to select how many hours they spend doing various activities, including classwork, working for paid jobs off-campus or participating in a paid or unpaid internship.

“GW is trying to learn about your experience with your federal work-study award and why you did not use it or declined it,” the email states.

Laurie Koehler, the vice provost for enrollment management and retention, said that as the University continues to focus on improving the student experience and retention rates that they have been “reviewing how working in a FWS position might impact a student’s academic performance.”

GW has historically lagged behind peers in six-year graduation rates, a measure of student satisfaction often linked to academic success that officials have sought to boost over the last several years.

She said more than 20 percent of undergraduates are awarded federal work-study – a form of financial aid allowing students to work part-time to help pay for their education – with their financial aid packages. The federal government then pays student salaries to help them afford the cost of a college education.

GW has more than 30 federal work-study off-campus employers, Koehler added.

“Surveys like this will help GW learn more about how the FWS program is used by our students, and why some students decide not to accept their FWS awards,” Koehler said in an email.

She declined to say how many students are eligible for federal work-study and don’t use it and if the number of students declining their work study aid has increased.

Students said they often don’t use federal work-study because there aren’t enough interesting positions open on campus or they find jobs off campus that pay more.

Freshman Gillian Hand, who received an email from the office, said last semester, she applied to several work-study positions through Handshake, GW’s online job portal, but didn’t hear back from most of them.

Hand said she eventually starting working with GW SMARTDC, a reading program that provides tutoring for public school children in the District, for a work-study position. But the job required extensive training that didn’t begin until December, she said.

“By the time I had all my training it was literally already winter break, so I didn’t get paid at all last semester,” she said. “So it looked like I didn’t accept my federal work-study for the first semester.”

Junior Taylor Dumaine said she was saving up to study abroad while working at the Starbucks next to Gelman Library and a work-study job during the second semester of her sophomore year. She said she later realized she could earn more money working at restaurants than she could doing federal work-study.

“It was just easier and a lot more lucrative,” Dumaine said.

Sophomore Ojani Walthrust said a lack of engaging positions can turn off students who want to use their work-study aid.

“Obviously beggars can’t be choosers, but at the same time it’s more fruitful for students to have internships and federal work-study jobs that they’re interested in and a lot of the time they aren’t able to find that,” he said.

Walthrust said the financial aid office wasn’t “very transparent” with him about his work-study wage.

He had a $3,000 contract for this academic year working as a federal work-study development assistant in the Elliott School of International Affairs, but was told just four days before his contract expired that he would only receive half the wage because he had an outside scholarship from the United Negro College Fund.

Walthrust said he was notified by his job, but not by the financial aid office.

“They told me when financial aid already cut it in half, I didn’t hear anything from financial aid,” he said.

Experts said the limited availability of positions and the competing wages of off-campus jobs lead to students’ decisions to decline their federal work-study aid.

Mary Ann French, the director of student employment at Boston University, said BU studies internal weekly reports along with surveys and other data to monitor the earnings of students using federal work-study.

French said freshmen are often hesitant to begin working right away out of fear of overfilling their schedule or jeopardizing their performance in school.

“A survey looking at students who are not using their work-study could be helpful to an institution who is trying to spend their work-study funding and are not able to do so,” she said in an email.

Luis Behrhorst, the student employment manager at Tulane University, said a lack of positions available on campus could leading to a declining use of federal work-study. Students may also decide to work off campus if a job pays more than the positions available on campus, he added.

“That might be helpful just to identify how many positions are actually out there and then compare it to the number of students that you’re awarding federal work-study to,” he said.



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