In President Donald Trump’s plan for the 2018 budget, he laid out plans to harshly cut federal work-study budgets, and consequently, University students that depend on the work-study program could find themselves in an unstable situation. The University offers a multitude of work-study positions as a part of student financial aid packages, allowing students to earn money with campus jobs for financial support. While work-study is generally viewed in a positive light, students and staff note that there are ways in which the program can be improved while still providing student income, keeping in mind that the system is crucial for the students who are reliant on it.
Work-study has a lengthy history at the University. Senior Associate Director of Financial Aid Michael T. Albano revealed that, in the inaugural year of the Federal Work-Study Program, 1965-6, the University received and disbursed a total of $2,546.
“Since then, funding has increased over time due to both increased federal allocations and an increase in the minimum wage over the course of 41 years,” Albano wrote in an email to The Argus.
Depending on the department, the current salary for work-study jobs is usually above Connecticut’s minimum wage, $10.10 per hour—a far cry from the original salary in the 1960s.
Assistant Director of the Jewett Center for Community Partnership Diana Martinez commented that the majority of work-study students provide a service to the greater University and Middletown Community. Martinez explained her belief in expanding work-study opportunities to include forms of community engagement.
“I think sometimes for me it’s a little distressing to see that students who have work-study allotments often get placed into fields where they are in service of other people,” Martinez said. “I think if we really want to think about ways to revolutionize work-study, it would be fantastic to see any kind of engagement work be eligible for work-study allotment.”
Students from the class of 2020 and the class of 2021 shared their opinions on the benefits of this program.
For Ricardo Vega ’21, his job as a tutor for WesReads last semester provided rewarding, firsthand experience in his chosen field.
“I got to use my own knowledge on the Language Arts and reading and had to come up with different ways to teach the content to the kids I work with,” Vega said. “You use the knowledge you learned in school and find ways to present it so that children can understand…. It was a great hands-on experience for me and gave me personal gratification to know that I am a part of an organization that is helping kids in the Middletown community succeed academically.”
While Vega’s job helps him to hone his skills to meet his long-term goals, Ferdinand Quayson ’20 shared how his work-study jobs reinforce and enrich fundamental aspects of his classroom experience, which revolve around nonprofit and social-entrepreneurial studies.
“I carefully select the department I work in to ensure that aside from getting paid, I am also learning essential skills which will not only benefit my Wesleyan education, but also benefit my post-Wesleyan career,” Quayson explained.
Quayson’s jobs complement and strengthen his studies, whereas other students related how last semester they were forced to make a compromise between the time devoted to their studies and work-study jobs. Alice Swan ’21, for example, held a work-study position at the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center, which narrowed the window of time available for her studies.
“It did require quite a lot of energy,” she explained. “At times it did conflict with other events I wanted to attend, such as interesting speakers and office hours for some of my classes, but I could usually work out a compromise.”
Although students did not volunteer specific solutions for the challenges that work-study can impose, Martinez noted that there are ways in which the program could be improved for students on campus while recognizing that the budget for work-study is not controlled by the University.
“I think we could think about ways that work-study could function better,” Martinez explained. “Unfortunately a lot of that is out of our control because the money comes from the federal grant, but I think it would be fantastic to see a different kind of work-study allotment that…allows students to participate in any kind of community engagement work.”
This article will be the first in a series of investigations into the University’s work-study program through a variety of lenses.
Tristan Genetta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.