Students in work-study program may be wasting time

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Union’s tuition, room, board and mandatory fees for the 2016-17 school year, beginning this fall, total $64,374. That is a lot of money. So, about 60 percent of students are awarded some form of financial aid.

A significant number of those students receive work study as a portion of that award ― typically $1,900 per year earned at a rate of $9 per hour, the New York state minimum wage. Work study is a common form of financial aid awarded to students at over 3,400 universities across the country.

With the costs of higher education ballooning nationally, it’s important to find ways to help students pay these expenses. The Federal Work Study program was established to allow students to earn money to help pay for their education. It seems like a fair way to contribute to the cost of your education as opposed to receiving free money from the school, your parents, or elsewhere.

But, at a school like Union where tuition is so high, it seems almost counterintuitive to dedicate eight hours per week, or 4 percent of your time, working for a paycheck that only accounts for 3 percent of Union’s costs.

Do the math, and you might find that doing work study isn’t actually worth your time. If you’re a full-time student, you spend up to 75 days on campus each term, between 10 weeks of classes and one finals week, which can last up to five days if you have an exam on the last day of finals. So, after three terms, that amounts to 225 days per year.

Since we pay over $64,000 to spend that time at school, a student without financial aid would spend $286.11 per day to be a Union Student, for an hourly price of $11.92. Pay attention to that hourly price, compared to the hourly wage given to work-study students.

If work study and loans are your only forms of financial aid, then you’re actually losing money at work study. But how large would your financial aid package need to be for your time at work study to turn a profit?

If you are one of the many students on this campus who spends eight hours a week at work study, think about your financial aid award. Are your total scholarships and grants (excluding loans) less than $13,674? If so, you’re actually paying money for the right to go to work study. And, if you spend less than 8 hours at work study, then your grant would have to be even larger. You could spend the entirety of a term at work study, 24 hours per day, seven days a week, and not earn enough money to pay for the term.

How much do you like getting those paychecks every other week? You’re actually giving more money to the school to receive that paycheck in your mailbox than the check is actually worth.

Work study looks like it allows you to contribute to the costs of your education through fair work, but in actuality, a higher-paying, off-campus job, or spending an extra 8 hours a week studying, would be much more worthy of your time.

 

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