Work-study funds make it possible for Jen Litterer to finance her education and learn photography at the same time.
Work-study, one of the most popular forms of financial aid, helps students pay for their education as they go, without incurring loan indebtedness. Better yet, it frequently gives students experience in a field they would like to enter after graduation and role models to help them prepare for a career.
For Jen Litterer, who holds a work-study position with University Relations photographers, its the best way she found to help finance her education. When she graduated from North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC), applied to Iowa, and filled out her Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA), it told her that she would be eligible for work-study.
Im a double major in journalism and theatre arts, Litterer says. I wanted to learn the PhotoShop software program. I had been assistant editor of the newspaper at NIACC and wrote articles, did photography, the whole thing. I was looking to do something different.
I went to the web site that lists work-study jobs (www.uiowa.edu/ financial-aid) and found this one in photography.
Her job has worked out well for her, she says.
Its very relaxed. If you need time off to study or do a project, you can take it and then get the work done on your own schedule. It would be a lot harder if I were a waitress instead on an inflexible work schedule. I dont know what Id do without work-study.
Chief Photographer Tom Jorgensen, who supervises Litterers work, says that having work-study students lessens the impact of not being able to hire full-time employees in a state budget crisis.
By the time theyre here six months, they can do much of what regular employees do, he says. Shes an independent worker who knows what to do when she comes in and finds something to do if she finishes a project. Its really nice to have her here.
Though the program benefits both students and employers, the number of total work-study awards is less now than it was two years ago. In June 2001, the Iowa State Legislature curtailed its support of the state work-study grants, responding to the states budget crisis. Federal work-study grants continued, so many Iowa students still are in the work-study program.
The decision not to fund work-study jobs took $600,000 from available student financial aid at Iowa, says Cynthia Seyfer, assistant director of the Office of Student Financial Aid. However, that doesnt mean that students werent able to find employment. Some who would have been eligible may have been able to find other jobs off campus in which the employer pays the entire wage, she says.
Seyfer says it appears doubtful that the state will restore its support in 2002 or 2003.
We hope that it will come back at some point in the future. The program has a huge benefit, not only for the student but also for the Iowa City community, she says. A large number of students in work-study positions off campus work for nonprofit organizations.
Any campus job will qualify for federal work-study program support if it is not affiliated with a religious or political organization. Off campus, more than 30 community employers representing nonprofit or government agencies are approved to hire work-study students.
In both cases, the employer pays 39 percent of the students wage and the Work-Study Program pays the remaining 65 percent up to the dollar limitation of the students award.
The maximum award is $3,000 for the academic year, or $2,000 for first-year and transfer students. Minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. Students who work 15 hours a week at this wage can earn $2,500 during an academic year.
Community service positions also are eligible. One of the largest nationally is the America Reads Initiative, in which eligible students are trained to tutor local elementary students. The program is coordinated by the College of Education and federal work-study funds 100 percent of students wages.
Community service jobs involve services that improve the quality of life for community residents. Both on-campus and off-campus employers offer jobs that meet that definition of community service.
Seyfer says her office updates the web site every day with new work-study jobs as they open up. Another help for students who want to work is the Job Fair, which occurs on the first Thursday of fall semester in the Iowa Memorial Union.
Its a great opportunity for students to see the range and options available, Seyfer says. Sometimes students dont want to work in their first semester, but they should go to the Job Fair anyway.
Unfortunately, with the economy the way it is, more employers are tightening their employment levels even off campus, she says. More students are coming in to tell us its difficult to find a job right now. While we list the jobs, we dont do job counselingbut thats what students have been telling us.
Because the work-study jobs are important to so many students, University of Iowa Student Government officers from the three regents universities recently lobbied state legislators to restore state work-study funding when that is possible.
By Anne Tanner