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ERIC Number: ED574792
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2017-Mar
Pages: 8
Abstractor: ERIC
Does the Federal Work-Study Program Really Work--And for Whom? Research Brief
Scott-Clayton, Judith; Zhou, Rachel Yang
Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment
The Federal Work-Study (FWS) program is one of the oldest federal programs intended to promote college access and persistence for low-income students. Since 1964, the program has provided approximately $1 billion annually to cover up to 75 percent of the wages of student employees, who typically work on campus for 10 to 15 hours per week. The FWS program has an extensive reach, serving nearly 700,000 students per year, including one out of every 10 full-time first-year undergraduates (and three out of 10 at private nonprofit four-year colleges). Among recipients, the average annual award size is $2,270 (representing about 66 percent of published tuition and fees at a public two-year college or 24 percent at a public four-year college, but only 5 percent of published tuition and fees at a private nonprofit four-year college). Despite this longstanding reach, federal funding for the FWS program has been stagnant for more than a decade, and in inflation-adjusted terms it has actually declined by nearly 25 percent since 2000 (to $982 million in 2015-16, from $1.3 billion in 2000-01), even as student enrollment and student need have both grown (College Board, n.d.). This decline in support may reflect two persistent concerns: first, the lack of adequate evidence regarding the program's impact on student outcomes, and second, discomfort with its "campus-based" funding mechanism, which provides funds to institutions rather than students and disproportionately benefits selective private institutions. While some small private institutions are able to provide FWS to all eligible students, public institutions typically can provide FWS to only a fraction of students that qualify, and at some community colleges, FWS funds are effectively nonexistent. In this brief, the authors discuss current research regarding both the effectiveness of the program and its equity in terms of the distribution of funds. The authors begin by highlighting findings from recent research by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE) which suggests that the program does positively influence students' college attainment and post-college outcomes. The evidence also suggests that these impacts may be greatest for low-income students and students at public institutions. The authors then discuss how the current process for allocating FWS funds to institutions leaves these very students--those who are most likely to benefit--with the least access to the program. They conclude with implications for policy, including potential channels that might be used to maximize the effectiveness of the program.
Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment. Teachers College, Columbia University, 525 West 120th Street Box 174, New York, NY 10027. Tel: 212.678.3091; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Institute of Education Sciences (ED)
Authoring Institution: Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE)
IES Funded: Yes
Grant or Contract Numbers: R305C110011