The Education section of the New York Times online (one of the best places to go to find out what’s the people who make decisions are reading), ran an article last week talking about the federal work study program and how it can fit into the ever-more-confusing funding structure to pay tuition. I had to make at least a few comments on this article and relay some of my experience with the work study program and the real world that I dealt with in college about a decade ago.
Time was when work-study meant taking shifts at the campus commons, wearing a paper hat and serving mystery meat and creamed spinach as your classmates shuffled through. But with dining services mostly outsourced, and everything about college life more complex, work-study jobs have come to fill a variety of needs — beyond the obvious one of putting cash in the pockets of undergraduate and graduate students. Some want to develop a skill, or beef up a résumé. Some seek an “in” with a certain professor. Ms. Rice’s goal was to make as small a dent in study time as possible.
Back in the day when I was applying for financial aid, my college would send back a list of different funding sources that I was eligible for given a variety of factors. Federal work study was always listed, but the options put before me in the program weren’t as meager as paper hats and mystery meat. That said, I did find the options presented to me unacceptable when I was in college. They were the typical, BS jobs like sitting at the front of the dorms and signing guests and working as tellers at the various cash registers around campus.
Plus, the rates they were willing to pay were abysmal. Something like $5 per hour (I think one job was even at $4.50 per hour). I know it was 2000 when these options were presented, but come on! Instead of these ridiculously low, modern-day-slave labor rates, I went out and worked at a large pharmacy and grocery store making over $10 per hour. From there I went on to work for a creepy, deceit-laden real estate development company making even more.
How are students expected to pay for college when they are given such unacceptable federal work study options? Here’s hoping that they’ve changed the types of jobs that are available to the students so they can at least make some decent money in this program.