Stimulus money boosts MU's work study program

Thursday, July 30, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — MU’s work study program received more than $300,000 in stimulus funds for 2009-10, allowing the university to offer more students an opportunity to participate in the program.

The stimulus money has helped offset the nearly $130,000 loss in funding MU’s work study program experienced since last year.

Work study is a federally subsidized program in which universities hire students for campus jobs to help them pay their tuition. Students are chosen to participate in the program on the basis of financial need. The federal government pays 75 percent of the student’s wages, and the university pays for the remaining 25 percent.

Including the stimulus money the university received, MU’s 2009-10 work study program was allocated a little more than $1.5 million in federal funds versus the $1.36 million it was given in 2008-09. Including MU's match, the total for this coming year is about $1.9 million versus about $1.7 million last year.

Financial Aid Director Jim Brooks said the stimulus money has allowed the university to offer 66 more students an award from last year. Although that's not a large increase, Brooks said he anticipates a greater percentage of students will accept the offer than in previous years, which is where the difference will be seen.

“I think with the economy the way it is, more people are exploring options,” Brooks said.

Last year, out of 1,630 students who were made offers by MU, 1,200 students accepted the work study award. This year the university offered 1,696 students work study award packages.

Brooks said the university always offers more awards than it has money to give, anticipating that not all students will accept the awards or use the full amount. This year, he said, the university has over-awarded about half a million dollars.

“If all the students accept their awards, then we would have to determine how to cover the overexpenditure," Brooks said, though he does not expect that to happen.

Students who applied to the program for the first time received an average award of $1,200 in 2009, meaning they can earn up to that much money for the next academic year. Continuing students, who typically see an increase in awards from their freshman to sophomore year, received an average award of $2,200.

Despite the boost provided in stimulus money, that number is down from last year when first-time students were awarded an average of $1,500 per academic year.

Because of the 16 percent increase in Free Applications for Federal Student Aid that MU received, Brooks said the university decreased the freshman award amounts to ensure there would be enough money available for continuing students.

MU’s increase in FAFSA applications reflects a national trend. Last year the number of FAFSA applications rose nationally by 12 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education. 

Although the university decreased the average award amount for first-year students, there was not enough money for all students who received awards last year to be funded this year as well.

The university’s work-study program didn’t fund MU senior Gina Eygenhuysen this year, despite the fact that she was awarded money through the program for the past two years and said her financial situation has not improved.

“I was kind of startled,” Eygenhuysen said. “If anything, our financial situation is worse.”

It’s worse, she said, because now her parents must pay for her brother to go to college and for her father to go back to school to get his master's degree.

Eygenhuysen said she is even more baffled because her brother, who will be a freshman next year, was offered a work study award and she was not. He declined the money because he is not going to MU.

Brooks said the qualification criteria have not changed since last year and that no preference is given to incoming freshman.

Getting a job through work study is better than getting an off-campus job, Eygenhuysen said, because students can work in a field related to their major and employers are more understanding of class schedules.

Brooks said the work study program is a win-win situation for the university and students because students get good real-world experience and the university does not have to spend as much money to pay its student employees.

Students who do not receive offers for work-study can be put on a wait list if more funds become available. Eygenhuysen said she hopes there will be enough funds left for her to receive an offer.

“I was depending on the money from that job,” she said.

Brooks said one option would be to lower the award amounts and distribute them to more people, but that presents problems.

"If you cut the award amounts too small, people will go look for jobs elsewhere," he said, "because it's just not worth their time."

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