Tuesday, December 13, 2011

State Work Study provides students career skills, experience

State Work Study, a program that enables students at 55 public and independent institutions in Washington to earn part of the cost of their education, faces suspension in the Governor’s proposed 2012-13 supplemental budget, although it appears to have escaped the initial round of cuts being proposed by the House and Senate during the current special session.
Just a few years ago, before it was reduced by two-thirds, the program served nearly 9,500 students. Now it is projected to serve 3,500, many of whom report they won’t be able to stay in school if the remaining program funding is cut, said Rachelle Sharpe, director of student financial assistance at the HECB in testimony before the House Higher Education Committee on Monday.
Sharpe highlighted key facts about the program, emphasizing its role helping students nearing graduation gain critical skills, experience and employment opportunities while increasing the productivity and profitability of state businesses.
As an example of how the program benefits both students and employers, Sharpe cited the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute focused on curing infectious diseases, which has hired 200 work study students over the last decade. Fifteen of those student employees continue to work for the company as permanent employees after graduation, and the firm continues to praise students’ contributions to its progress. 
About 2,000 employers statewide participate, paying a percentage of the students’ wages as well as all benefits costs. Washington recently increased the amount employers must contribute to the program in an effort to offset funding reductions to needy students. Off-campus, for-profit employers now must pay 60 percent of student wages, on-campus employers pay 40 percent of wages, and off-campus non-profits as well as STEM employers pay 30 percent.   
Sharpe indicated that two rounds of increased match rates since 2009-10 have been challenging for employers in terms of maintaining previous levels of program participation. The state program pays a somewhat higher wage rate than the separate federal work study program, which also is available to participating institutions. Both programs provide institutions significant flexibility in making individual awards.
State Work Study program funds are used, in many instances, to assist upper-level or graduate students who are progressing toward or nearing completion of degrees. Federal work study funds, on the other hand, are often used by institutions to assist students in their first year or two, Sharpe said.  
State Work Study funding for 2010-11 totaled $20.6 million for 7,500 students. Of this, $14.3 million was state support and $6.3 million was employer support. In 2011-12, 3,500 students are slated to receive a total of $11 million – of which $3 million is employer contribution.
Sharpe said SWS funding is distributed mostly to full-time students, who are limited to 19 hours of work per week. Research has correlated part-time work with increased levels of student success, she said, as long as student workloads remain between 15 and 19 hours per week. 
Two Evergreen State College students who participate in the State Work Study program testified at the hearing. One, Cory Frye, said he enjoyed working hard in a business embedded in the community that is doing good work. The other, Emily McKown, said she would not be able to go to college without the program.
“It’s a good program,” McKown said. “It furthers my career experience, and having a couple of days a week with hands-on work helps me understand and have time to work through ideas presented in the classroom.”

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