UT work-study program shrinks as total number of student employees increases


Frances Bello works off campus at Burnet Self Storage.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

The start of the semester signals job-hunting season on the 40 Acres, and depending on what type of job students are looking for, the search may be more or less difficult than in previous years.

Since 2009, the number of students with work-study jobs has decreased by almost a quarter to almost 1,100 workers, but at the same time, the number of students employed on campus has increased by 822 workers to almost 11,000.

A shrinking federal subsidy is fueling the decline in work-study employment, said Tom Melecki, director of the Office of Student Financial Services. Since fall 2009, federal funding for work-study has decreased by 21 percent at UT, from $2.4 million to $1.8 million. Additionally, state funding has decreased 18 percent from $232,199 to $190,187 in the same time period.

Melecki said a greater allocation from the Texas Legislature could help offset the work-study losses.

“We hope the Legislature will dramatically increase appropriations for the Texas College Work-Study Program so we can fund more on-campus employment opportunities for students,” Melecki said.

The Texas Senate’s proposed budget for the 2013-2014 biennium allocates the same amount of funding to the program as it did in the last session — $7.5 million.

Work-study is a form of financial aid offered to students and funded by federal and state programs. Students who qualify are hired by the University but have 70-75 percent of their wages paid by the government, with the University paying the remainder. 

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, serves on the Senate Higher Education Committee and said in a statement he supports a possible funding increase to state work-study.

Although the amount of work-study funding has decreased, total student employment increased on campus from spring 2011 to fall 2012, according to Student Employment Adviser Amy Greenspan.

“The perception is that it’s really hard to get a job on campus if you are not work-study, and I don’t believe that is an accurate perception because the number of students on work-study versus the number of students who are not speaks for itself,” Greenspan said.

The total number of students working on campus increased from 10,399 workers in spring 2012 to 10,941 workers in fall 2012, Greenspan said. Ten percent of them qualified for a work-study subsidy.

“We don’t have a really direct way of measuring, but the number of student employees is up, so one interpretation might be that as funding and budgets get tight people hire more students because it’s less expensive to hire students than a regular staff person,” Greenspan said.

According to Melecki, the University cannot legally eliminate a staff job and replace it with a student employee. A high turnover rate at the University might make it easier for students to find jobs formerly held by regular staff people, Melecki said.

In fiscal year 2011, UT eliminated 200 positions according to UT System documents. An additional 400 positions were projected to be cut in fiscal year 2012, although the actual number of positions eliminated could have varied, UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said. Some of the non-faculty staff positions could be held by students, Doolittle said.

Independent of the causes or effects of a shift in University staffing, financial aid officer Linda Morgan said research indicates working on campus has a positive impact on students’ academic performance.

“Studies have shown that students who work less than 20 hours per week in on-campus jobs tend to perform better in their schoolwork and graduate on time than their peers who are working off campus or are working more than 20 hours per week,” Morgan said.

Watson said this is why he thinks the state’s work-study program could be a target for more funding.

“From what I know about the benefits to students through work-study programs, this would be a primary place to look for additional funding,” Watson said.

The benefits of the work-study program to anthropology senior Elizabeth Melville include having a work environment that accounts for her class schedule.

“You don’t have that high stress level of having to sacrifice your class time for your job,” Melville said.

She said working at an on-campus job also gives her exposure to networking that other off-campus students might not have.

“Being in a library is something special,” Melville said. “When professors come in you get to learn who they are and network. There’s a constant focus on the academic world. I think with waitressing, there would be less of that.”

Melville said work also helps her manage her time.

“I am really glad I have a job because it helps you structure your life much more concisely, and it builds your work ethic,” Melville said. “It’s not just a way of making money, but also a way to develop into a person going into the workforce.”

Aside from benefits to students, work-study funds are critical to filling staff positions at UT because they reduce employment costs for each department, financial aid officer Linda Morgan said.

“You get a lot of bang for your buck,” Morgan said. “You could hire three work-study students for what it would cost to hire one non-work-study student. The reality is that some of the departments, even with the subsidy, cannot afford to hire three students.”

Morgan said 1,094 students received work-study positions in 2011-2012, which was more than 20 percent less than the number of students two years ago.

Money allocated from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act helped bolster the program in 2009-2010, but the benefits of the program were short-lived. Cuts the following year resulted in UT ending its summer work-study program, which has not been reinstated, Morgan said.

“That was a fun year,” Morgan said. “It was essentially win, win, win all the way around, but the very next year it dipped below the line where we were before and has continued to go down ever since.”

As the number of students who take jobs at the University increases, it is important they find a job they can manage along with schoolwork, Melecki said.

Among dropouts responding to a University study that concluded in 2011, off-campus workers were more likely than their on-campus peers to say work negatively impacted their school performance. Just under 60 percent of students working off campus said their schoolwork was negatively impacted by work. The same percentage of respondents working on campus said their academic performance was unaffected by working while going to college.

Psychology senior Holly Chapman said balancing work and school is made easier by working on campus. 

“Since it’s basically a 9-to-5 job and you don’t have to work weekends, you can study then,” Chapman said. 

Journalism senior Frances Bello doesn’t have the luxury of a five-day workweek. Sunday is the only day she doesn’t work at Burnet Road Self Storage or attend UT. Bello said while she understands the convenience of working on campus, she feels her off-campus job will also provide a substantial benefit in the job market when she starts looking for a job after graduation.

“In general, having a job doesn’t give you as many options for extracurricular activities and internships,” Bello said. “If you’re off campus there is going to be even less of that, but I feel like employers are looking for some kind of job experience. There are advantages and disadvantages to working, but I feel like it’s genuinely going to help me find a job after I graduate.” 

Morgan said striking a balance between work and academics is essential to success at UT.

“Your full-time job is going to school and getting your degree,” Morgan said. “This job is meant to be less than part time, frankly. If you have extra time use it on your studies, but remember why you came to UT in the first place. Keep your eye on the prize.”

Images of Elizabeth Melville and Holly Chapman by Chelsea Purgahn and Pearce Murphy