Improve Federal Work-Study


The Federal Work-Study program allows institutions to provide funding for students to work, either on or off campus (with limitations), to earn money that can be used to defray the cost of a higher education.

Institutions of higher education receive a lump sum of dollars from the federal government, and then determine which students are eligible for work-study awards based on their enrollment. Currently, the total lump sum for each college is determined in part by the length of time an institution has participated in the Federal Work-Study program. This formula gives an advantage to older institutions, including elite ones enrolling fewer low-income students, over younger colleges. 

NCAN calls for Congress to improve and expand the federal work-study program by:

  • Making work-study available to students who need it most. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 35 percent of work-study dollars were awarded to students in the top two income quartiles in 2016, an inequity rooted in outdated policy allocating funds to institutions based on longevity in the program. To better target aid to low-income students, Congress should adjust the Federal Work-Study program funding formula to allocate dollars to institutions based on the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at the school, as outlined by New America and partners here.

  • Expanding work-study to serve more students. Approximately 700,000 students benefit from the Federal Work-Study program each year, which is less than 10 percent of the 7.8 million students who receive a Pell Grant. Because students who participate in work-study are more likely to complete college, Congress should increase the program’s funding so more low-income students can benefit.
Read stories from NCAN members and students that highlight the importance of the Federal Work-Study program. For low-income students, every dollar counts when piecing together a financial aid package.