Although it may sometimes seem ubiquitous, the federal work-study program actually doesn't reach many college students. And the money, which subsidizes part-time jobs, often flows to institutions that primarily educate wealthy and middle-class populations. That's a problem, because a recent study finds that work-study aid can be instrumental in helping help low-income students graduate.
Researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University analyzed federal survey data, and found that students were more likely to complete bachelor's degrees in six years when they received work-study aid. The effect was greater for low-income students and students with low SAT scores.
Work-study jobs don't pay much — on average, $1,670 per year — but they're designed to be convenient for students. They're usually on campus or close by, and offer flexible hours. "For a lot of students at big public institutions or community colleges that are getting very little of this money, they are working a lot anyway, and they're working at jobs that are not that complementary with their schoolwork," says Judith Scott-Clayton, the Columbia study's lead author.
Work-study aid currently reaches about 704,000 undergraduate and graduate students a year. Students' wages come both from the government and from the college they attend (or another eligible employer). The amount of money a college gets depends on the amount of money it received the year before and whether its student body can afford its tuition.