Does Federal Work-Study Work for Students?

June 2019–August 2025

Federal Work-Study (FWS) serves more than 600,000 students a year at a cost of nearly $1 billion but has never been rigorously evaluated. In this project, CCRC will investigate the effects of FWS at a large, urban, public postsecondary system using a randomized lottery among equally eligible FWS applicants.

FWS subsidizes up to 75% of eligible students’ wages and encourages institutions to employ students on campus in part-time, educationally relevant jobs. While a relatively small part of financial aid, FWS could play an important role in degree completion and employment after college by allowing students who must work to prioritize academics and improve their integration into campus. FWS may also provide relevant work experience, helping to level the playing field for students who cannot afford to take unpaid internships.

The study will evaluate the relationship between initial FWS offers and actual FWS participation, as well as whether work-study participation affects persistence and degree completion over at least three years of follow-up. The researchers will also use new sources of data to investigate the effect of FWS on the intensity or type of work students do while in college and on outcomes including GPA, credit accumulation, and post-college employment.

The study will also include an in-depth investigation of implementation and costs through administrator interviews, student focus groups, and a student survey to gain additional insight that cannot be obtained from administrative records alone. It will explore how FWS works at the campus level and how students make decisions about participation to better understand the outcomes.

This project is supported by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences through grant number R305A200250, and Arnold Ventures.