Implementing the Federal Work-Study Program: A Resource Utilization & Cost Study

March 24, 2023, 3:15–4:45 MT
Grand Hyatt Hotel, Room 10 - Mt. Elbert (GHCC, 2nd floor)

What do community colleges and universities need to spend to administer and operate the Federal Work-Study Program (FWS)?

The FWS program is one of the oldest federal policy tools intended to promote college access and persistence for low-income students, pre-dating Pell Grants and Stafford Loans. Unlike other forms of federal student aid which are awarded to students on a formula basis, FWS allocations are granted in aggregate to institutions, which then have significant flexibility in implementing the program, including determining who receives an award and how much, and how students are connected to available jobs. Thus, the full resource cost for institutions to administer and operate FWS is quite different from the institutional allocation of FWS funds, and how much it actually costs institutions to administer and operate FWS is unknown.

We investigate what resources are required to administer and operate the FWS program at the City University of New York (CUNY), the single largest recipient of FWS funds nationally. This investigation is based on collected survey data and information from interviews at six CUNY’s community and senior colleges and student payroll records regarding the number of FWS jobs. We interviewed financial aid directors, FWS coordinators, and others involved in the implementation of the program at CUNY Central and at each participating institution. We analyze this evidence using the ingredients method where each resource is priced out to determine total resource cost.

To administer and operate FWS, institutions must commit resources to the following tasks: (1) accounting, compliance, and auditing of the FWS program; (2) program admission, placement and hiring; (3) overseeing and supervising FWS employment; and (4) processing contracts and payroll; and (5) manual packaging and distribution of discretionary funds. These resources include personnel, technology platforms and software, training, and materials. Since institutions have flexibility in terms of how they manage and operate FWS, the annual cost varies by institution and depending on the number of FWS students.

Institutions with relatively large numbers of FWS students have a FWS coordinator working full-time for the program with the support of at least two financial aid administrators with 60% of their work dedicated to FWS. These institutions also spend on a FWS software package used for online placement and hiring, electronic timesheet submission, tracking student earnings, managing the waitlist for the distribution of discretionary funds, and auditing and compliance. Institutions with fewer FWS students also have a FWS coordinator but that person typically works part-time for the program and without administrative support. At these institutions, FWS coordinators do not have access to a FWS software, which can make their job substantially more labor intensive.

The pandemic caused a few likely permanent changes in FWS training. Financial aid staff at all six institutions stopped attending in-person FWS trainings and workshops. FWS student and supervisor orientations are now delivered virtually at most institutions.

In this first-of-its-kind FWS cost study, we will calculate the full resource cost for institutions to administer and operate FWS and express this amount as total and net cost per student and per dollar of FWS allocation. The net cost will represent the amount of resources committed by the institution from participating in the FSW program.


Veronica Minaya, Senior Research Associate and Program Lead, CCRC

Adela Soliz, Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Public Policy, Peabody College, Vanderbilt University & Research Affiliate, CCRC

Amy E. Brown, Research Associate, CCRC