The Federal Work-Study (FWS) program makes a positive difference for college students throughout the country. For the 2015-16 academic year, the U.S. Department of Education projects that the federal government will award $990 million in FWS grants to nearly 600,000 students at approximately 3,300 institutions of higher education. Including institutional matching funds, FWS will award at least $1.3 billion to low-income students.
However, due to budget constraints and reduced federal spending, FWS has seen federal appropriations dip from $1.3 billion in 2002-03 to less than $1 billion in 2015-16 in real dollars. Sequestration eliminated an estimated 33,000 students from participation in the program for the 2013-14 academic year alone.
Unlike other types of financial aid, work-study earnings are not applied directly to student tuition and fees. Students who are awarded work-study receive the funds in a paycheck as they earn them, based on hours worked. Typically, FWS earnings are meant to help with a student’s daily expenses and not meant to cover large costs like tuition and on-campus housing.
The Federal Work-Study program has been successful in helping students persist to graduation. In fact, researchers at Columbia University have concluded that Federal Work-Study participants are more likely to graduate and get a job after college than non-participants.