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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Does work-study offer time for work and study?

Published: January 24, 2014
Section: Opinions

Though Brandeis is a very expensive school, as all private schools are, it does tend to give a good amount of financial aid. Tuition has been steadily increasing over the years, and without scholarships, Brandeis would not even be a possibility for many students here. However, the problem with student financial aid is not that they are not giving enough, it is that they are sneakily exaggerating the amount they give by “giving” an exorbitant amount of money from work-study. While students who need to earn extra money to help pay for their education should try to work to help pay for it, the amount Student Financial Services expects students to earn from work-study is too high, and the system of work-study here on campus is difficult and confusing. Brandeis likes to make prospective students believe that they are helping them out, but in truth, it is unreliable and unhelpful.

The statistics back up the amount of financial aid Brandeis gives, but statistics do not tell the entire story. According to the College Board, 61 percent of undergraduate students at Brandeis applied for need-based financial aid, Brandeis offered 85 percent of these students aid, and $35,353 was the average need-based scholarship or grant award. However, the total cost of attendance is slightly higher than $60,000 leaving an average of $25,000 for the family or other loans to cover. College Board states the average indebtedness at graduation is $27,906, a large sum of money for young people just about to begin their lives.

However, that sum is actually even larger because a sizable portion of financial aid is work-study. By plugging in what I believe were average, middle-class statistics into Brandeis’s net price calculator on the College Board’s website, I received an amount in the $30,000 range as College Board’s average confirms, but $3,000 of this was part of work-study. That means a student has to earn $1500 a semester in order to receive their full financial gift. There are about four months in a semester, so that means there are about 16 weeks to work, but many students take off for vacation, especially with two spring breaks at over a week long. Let’s assume though that a student works for 15 weeks. That means he or she has to learn $100 every week. At a job that pays between $8 and $10 per hour, that’s a minimum of 10 hours a week. Not only do many students not have time to work 10 hours each week, but many jobs will not even offer them that many hours every week. That means he or she not only has to find a job, he or she has to find another job to make up for what the first one cannot pay him or her.

However, let’s not begin to talk about what a student earns until we discuss how he earns a job in the first place. The advantage of having work-study is that only students with federal work-study can apply to jobs before October. First of all, this does not apply at all to the spring semester, but in the beginning of the year, this still does not provide adequate assistance. Work-study does not guarantee someone a job because those without it can just as easily get a job, and a majority of students on campus have work-study anyway. The on-campus job system is messy and disorganized. While some of the jobs available to students get posted on the website, many are not, such as those in food services. If work-study is a part of a student’s financial aid package, Brandeis should assure those who receive it that they can reasonably acquire a job to earn that money. They are unfairly robbing students of their money by promising them aid without providing a reasonable venue to secure it.

Brandeis tuition continues to rise every year, and even with the large sum of financial aid they provide to a majority of students, the fact that a considerable portion comes from work-study is suspect. Work-study is not guaranteed but can be rather difficult to secure. It provides an advantage over non-work-study students, but since a majority of students have already been granted work-study in the first place, it helps even less. The fact that students have to work more than 10 hours every week, assuming they get a job right away, without any vacation is an unreasonable expectation. The approach for providing federal work-study ought to be reevaluated to provide a greater advantage for work-study beneficiaries. An advantage so that they have a better opportunity to find a job as well as to accurately portray the amount of aid students receive when coming to this school. The current situation is deceptive, unfair and unreasonable.