A hand up for students.
Byline: The Register-Guard
Among the programs that the Trump administration wants to cut funding for in 2018 is the work-study program, a long-running and popular program that helps students pay for college.
The program has been around since 1964, providing about $1 billion to about 700,000 students annually, according to a study earlier this year by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment, which is funded by the federal Department of Education. The proposed administration budget would cut work-study funds in half, to about $500 million.
The money covers up to 75 percent of a student's wages in jobs either on-campus or off-campus at a federal, state or local government agency or a private nonprofit agency working in the public interest. Off-campus jobs "must be academically relevant to the maximum extent possible." The average annual award size is $2,270, although amounts vary.
Research by various agencies and economists has concluded that the work-study program both increases the likelihood that participating students will graduate and also that they will find jobs after graduation - particularly in the case of low-income students.
About 1,300 University of Oregon students per year are in the work-study program. Kyna Burgett, an assistant director in the UO financial aid office, reels off a lengthy list of benefits from the program, from teaching students work-related skills such as time management and business etiquette, to helping them gain career-related knowledge, build a resume, make connections and find jobs after graduation. The community as a whole also benefits when students are placed in local nonprofit agencies and schools, Burgett said.
So what's not to like about this program?
Some conservative organizations have complained that assistance is now going to too many middle-income-and-above students who attend private schools and are able to show that their family resources won't cover the costs.
About 50 percent of the students on work-study today are from low-income families, with the rest middle-income or above.
If this is a serious concern, that can be addressed by tweaking the eligibility requirements to focus more of the money on low-income students - although there is a case to be made that some middle-income families also need help.
The work-study program has been around for more than 50 years, during which time students, universities and the workplace have all changed. So taking a comprehensive look at work-study to see how it could be updated or re-focused for the maximum benefit would be reasonable.
But taking a meat ax to a program that has benefitted students, colleges and communities throughout its history is a bad idea.
The administration's 2018 budget proposal runs well into the trillions of dollars; the money that would be saved by cutting work-study amounts to less than a flyspeck in this document. But for 700,000 students a year, and society as a whole, this money pays dividends many times over.