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Campus Compact > Earn, Learn, and Serve: Getting the Most from Community Service Federal Work-Study > A Brief History of the Federal Work-Study Program

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A Brief History of the Federal Work-Study Program

1. The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (August 20, 1964), whose goal was “to mobilize the human and financial resources of the Nation to combat poverty in the United States,” contained a section on a new program for Work-Study.

The declaration of purpose of the Act states that, “The United States can achieve its full economic and social potential as a nation only if every individual has the opportunity to contribute to the full extent of his capabilities and to participate in the workings of our society. It is, therefore, the policy of the United States to eliminate the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty in this Nation by opening to everyone the opportunity for education and training, the opportunity to work, and the opportunity to live in decency and dignity.”

This Act created the Jobs Corps, whose purpose was to “prepare for the responsibility of citizenship and to increase the employability of young men and young women aged sixteen through twenty-one by providing them in rural and urban residential centers with education, vocational training, useful work experience, including work directed toward the conservation of natural resources, and other appropriate activities.”

The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 also included a section on Work-Study programs, whose goal was to “stimulate and promote the part-time employment of students in institutions of higher education who are from low-income families and are in need of the earnings from such employment to pursue courses of study at such institutions.”

Conditions of agreement stated that the Work-Study program/grants shall, “(a) provide for the operation by the institution of a program for the part-time employment of its students in work:

  1. for the institution itself, or
  2. for a public or private nonprofit organization when this position is obtained through an arrangement between the institution itself and such an organization and:
    1. the work is related to the student’s educational objective, or
    2. such work
      1. will be in the public interest and is work which would not otherwise be provided,
      2. will not result in the displacement of employed workers or impair existing contracts for services, and
      3. will be governed by such conditions of employment as will be appropriate and reasonable in light of such factors as the type of work performed, geographical region, and proficiency of the employee;

      Provided, however, That no such work shall involve the construction, operation, or maintenance of so much of any facility used or to be used for sectarian instruction or as a place for religious worship;”

2. The Higher Education Act of 1965 transferred the Work-Study program from the Department of Labor to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and its purpose was restated as “to stimulate and promote the part-time employment of students, particularly students from low-income families, in institutions of higher education who are in need of the earnings from such employment to pursue courses of study at such institutions.”

The work was to be “for the institution itself or work in the public interest for a public or private nonprofit organization.” The Act of 1965 also states that “in the selection of students for employment under such Work-Study program, preference shall be given to students from low-income families…” In a revision of the statement of purpose of the Work-Study program in 1972, the language was changed to “students with great financial need.”

3. The revision in 1972 to the Higher Education Act of 1965 also included a new section entitled Work-Study for Community Service Learning Program. The purpose of this section was “to enable students in eligible institutions who are in need of additional financial support to attend institutions of higher education, with preference given to veterans who served in the Armed Forces in Indochina or Korea after August 5, 1964, to obtain earnings from employment which offers the maximum potential both for effective service to the community and for enhancement of the educational development of such students.”

In this section, the Commissioner of Higher Education was authorized to “enter into agreements with public or private nonprofit agencies under which the Commissioner will make grants to such agencies to pay the compensation of students who are employed by such agencies in jobs providing needed community services and which are of educational value.” Additionally, the agency projects should be “designed to improve community services or solve particular problems in the community,” and the “agency, in cooperation with the institution of higher education which the student attends, will make an effort to relate the projects performed by students to their general academic program and to a comprehensive program for college student services to the community.”

Community service was defined as including, but not limited to, “work in such fields as environmental quality, health care, education, welfare, public safety, crime prevention and control, transportation, recreation, housing and neighborhood improvement, rural development, conservation, beautification, and other fields of human betterment and community improvement.”

4. The Higher Education Amendments of 1992 made substantial changes to the work-study section of the Higher Education Act of 1965. A 5% mandate for community service work was instituted. Beginning in fiscal year 1994, institutions receiving federal Work-Study funds were required to use “at least 5% of the total amount of funds granted to such institution under this section in any fiscal year to compensate students employed in community service.”

Language was added to the statement of purpose of Work-Study: “to encourage students receiving Federal student financial assistance to participate in community service activities that will benefit the Nation and engender in the students a sense of social responsibility and commitment to the community.”

The definition of community service expanded to include “services which are identified by an institution of higher education, through formal or informal consultation with local nonprofit, governmental, and community-based organizations, as designed to improve the quality of life for community residents, particularly low-income individuals, or to solve particular problems related to their needs, including:

  1. such fields as health care, child care, literacy training, education (including tutorial services), welfare, social services, transportation, housing and neighborhood improvement, public safety, crime prevention and control, recreation, rural development, and community improvement;
  2. work in service opportunities or youth corps as defined in section 101 of the National and Community Service Act of 1990, and service in the agencies, institutions and activities designated in section 124a of the National and Community Service Act of 1990;
  3. support services to students with disabilities; and
  4. activities in which a student serves as a mentor for such purposes as
    1. tutoring;
    2. supporting educational and recreational activities; and
    3. conseling, including career counseling.”

In 1999 the Federal Work-Study (FWS) program required that participating schools devote 5% of their FWS funds to community service activities. Beginning in fiscal year 2000, the community service requirement increased to 7%. The FWS budget was $1 billion, nearly a 100% over the previous four years. Because of this, there was a large increase in the total number of community service positions funded through FWS dollars.

In October 1998, President Clinton signed the Higher Education Act of 1965 reauthorization, which included the 7% mandate. The bill also required colleges receiving FWS funds to have a children’s or family literacy project that employs Work-Study students as tutors. Another key change was that Work-Study students could now be compensated for the time they spend in training or traveling to their community service positions.

The Higher Education Act:

  • Clarifies that part-time employment under Federal Work-Study may include internships.
  • Allows campus jobs providing child care or services to students with disabilities to qualify under the community service requirement.
  • Requires colleges receiving the funds to support at least one project that compensates FWS students who are employed as reading tutors for preschool and elementary school children or who work in a family literacy project as part of the community service requirement.
  • Expands community service opportunities by allowing FWS funds to be used to compensate students employed in community service for time spent on traveling or in training directly related to the community service position.
  • Eliminates a requirement that colleges award a specific proportion of FWS awards to part-time students and to students who are financially independent of their parents, indicating instead that administrators should provide “a reasonable share” of awards to those students.
  • Allows the federal share of FWS awards to exceed 75%, but not 90%, for community service jobs at nonprofit organizations or government agencies. It makes clear, though, that no more than 10% of a college’s FWS participants can be employed in positions for which the federal share exceeds 75%

Much of my work in service-learning and community engagement has come as a result of the many excellent resources and materials generated by Campus Compact. When I first became the Founding Director of CSUSB's CUP [Community-University Partnership Institute], I relied almost exclusively on the resources of Campus Compact in designing, planning, and implementing our actions."

-Richard M. Eberst, CSU-San Bernardino