Working Hard, or Hardly Working?: The Federal Work Study Program

The current state of economic affairs in the United States, as well as around the world, has made it harder for most people to get enjoyable jobs that pay well— and Connecticut College has been no exception.

As financial aid budgets are cut and families start talking more and more to their college-enrolled children about budgeting and spending less, many have agreed that one way that students could assist their families is by getting a job at school. This is often easier said than done, especially for students who do not qualify for work-study.

For a student to become eligible for work-study, he or she must file a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and qualify for need-based aid, meaning that their potential family contribution is less than the cost of education.

During the academic year 2008-2009, 444 students at the college worked under the work-study program.

According to Mildred Lopez of Financial Aid, “there were many more students who were eligible to work under this program but chose not to for a variety of reasons.”

There are also several other kinds of work-study, including work-study through federal community service tutors and the State of Connecticut.

These programs are financed by either the federal or state government to foster volunteer and community service work in our area.

Our Office of Volunteers for Community Service Program (OVCS) is an excellent resource for students who can receive funding from the government.

While this helps a fair number of students, other students on campus could argue that it is unfair to be doing volunteer work for free while someone else may be being paid for doing the exact same thing.

While Financial Aid seems to be an easy target on which to place the blame for the lack of jobs on campus, it is actually individual departments that decide how many jobs they need to fill, and which will be funded by work-study. Without the work-study program, departments must fund their student employees completely out-of-pocket, and their budgets are tight in the current economic climate.

It is especially difficult for families who never anticipated that their child’s college savings account would deplete so quickly (even quicker than $50,000 a year), but still have no chance of qualifying for federal financial aid.

The number of jobs on campus for non-work study students is extremely limited, and many wonder why the college cannot provide more jobs for students as the economic situation worsens.

One of the most public work-study jobs on campus is that of the circulation desk assistant— the two students who are a constant presence at the front of library, checking books out and finding your books on reserve.

Many interviewed library student employees applied for the job even before their first day of classes freshman year, demonstrating that it is one of the most sought after jobs on campus. Shain media assistants are not exclusively work-study students, but their salaries are in the range of most work-study jobs on campus– not much higher than the State of Connecticut’s minimum wage of $8.00 per hour.

Dennis Barrett ’10, a front desk worker, said that while library employees receive a raise every year, his pay still hovers around minimum wage mark despite the fact that he is in his fourth year at the circulation desk.

While the students who work at the library are limited to six hours a week, Alicia Rea ’12 shared that someone “can make more money if [they] really want to by covering people’s shifts.” Non-work study off campus jobs present different scheduling challenges. Skye Ross ’10 found that working in a retail position at the Crystal Mall allowed her to pick up extra hours, but this came with the caveat of frequently missing out on Thursday nights at Conn.

One of the most visible non-work study jobs on campus is being a tour guide. Ask any tour guide if they like their job, they will reply with an enthusiastic ‘yes!’

However, asking if they like their small paycheck every two weeks is a completely different story.

Tour guide Nita Contreras ‘11 said “it’s really difficult to get a job on campus if you’re not on work-study, but actually earning money on campus is even more difficult.” Paid for each tour they give, tour guides may give several tours some weeks and others, none. Contreras said, “In a good week, I can make $16.”

There are, of course, some benefits to working off-campus. Emma Bruggeman ’11 has been teaching at ABC Gymnastics in Niantic for almost a year and a half. Her biggest complaint about having a job off campus is the long walk to south lot, but she does enjoy feeling “more connected to the greater New London community.”

Many students tutor off campus through OVCS programs like Kids, Books and Athletics or work in New London Public Schools, which gives them a sense of community, but no paycheck.

At a school as small as Conn, it is unlikely that every student who desires a job will be employed and will be doing something he or she enjoys. Many students are just looking for an opportunity to make some extra money on campus.

Maisie Sargent ’11 has looked for a variety of jobs, on and off campus, but to no avail. Luckily, she was able to find a paid internship this summer, which has allowed her to feel a little more comfortable whenever she pulls out her wallet.

However, Maisie echoed the opinion of most of the student body when she acknowledged that “regardless of everyone’s socioeconomic background and whether you’re on financial aid or not, we could all use a little extra spending money right now.”