Work-study at WU: Does it get better than this?
There are a number of places at Washington University where one can find undergraduates working: Bear Necessities, the Danforth University Center, Sumers Recreation Center and even the law school. While every student working at Wash. U. is paid in-pocket, some are employed through the Federal Work-Study program, which is controlled through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and ideally ensures that students who receive financial aid are guaranteed jobs. While any work-study student will tell you it is nice to have an income for tuition and outside expenses, being a working student indeed comes with its drawbacks.
According to a survey conducted by Student Life in November 2018, 31.15 percent of employed students say that their job affects their academic performance.
“[Work-study] really does affect how I do in school; all of my work has to be done in studio and I can’t do homework for architecture during work,” freshman architecture major and Bear Necessities employee Dia Villegas said. “That being said, the purpose of work-study is so that people like me can pay to go to school, so it becomes really difficult to balance, along with the stress of knowing that I could either skip work and do better in my classes but risk not having enough money to pay tuition, or be able to pay for school but risk my grades.”
About 24 percent of students at Wash. U. come from a household that makes less than $99,000 a year, yet for a considerably large percentage of students, Wash. U. remains an expensive institution even aside from its tuition. Many work-study students are responsible for paying for their own textbooks, trips home during breaks and everyday expenses.
One student surveyed admitted that, “Being low-income at Wash. U. is incredibly hard. My peers don’t understand why I work 25 hours a week in order to pay bills and have money for myself. It’s incredibly frustrating to be surrounded by people ignorant of their privilege.”
Furthermore, about 20.03 percent of students said they have had to drop out of an extracurricular due to activity fees. Greek Life is notably one of the most expensive extracurriculars at Wash. U., with membership dues costing upwards of $500 for some new members. While there are scholarships available both on the chapter level and the Panhellenic or Interfraternal level, these scholarships hardly ever cover the entirety of membership dues.
Is it fair that low-income students—especially Federal Work-Study students— oftentimes have to forgo aspects of their college experience in order to simply make ends meet? More importantly, is there anything that can be done about this?
While this predicament applies to a number of work-study students, it certainly does not apply to all. Sophomore and Danforth University Center Student Associate (DUCSA) Mia LaBarge insists that she has not encountered any difficulty balancing academics and work.
“While I completely understand and agree with the fact that a large amount of working students feel as though their jobs have affected their ability to perform as well academically, that hasn’t been my personal experience,” LaBarge said. “I started working as a DUCSA this semester, and I think that it has been a great opportunity for me to learn how to better manage my time. I’ve had and continue to have a great experience working [there] and feel like it has made me even more connected with the campus.”
On the other hand, Bonnie Castleman, a sophomore and student administrative assistant, explained that despite loving her job, the time she spends working is time she would use to do her homework.
“[Work-study] definitely affects my academics because the time I work used to be when I did homework; between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays was when I got all my [school] work done, and now my entire schedule is pushed back because of work,” Castleman said.
On behalf of all work-study students, this is not to say that no one appreciates the opportunity given to them by having an income while being a student. But there are certain hardships—limitations, even—that accompany having a job on campus.
At a university where socioeconomic diversity is far from apparent, addressing the difficulties that accompany being low-income and participating in a work-study program are imperative to uniting the student body. Scholarship opportunities should be offered by every club with fees, and students should not have to feel like they are falling behind either socially or academically because their financial situations differ from the majority of students at Wash. U.