NASFAA Research Shows Some Students Not Taking Advantage of Federal Work-Study Opportunities

Steps Must Be Taken to Address the Disconnect Between Award and Employment

The Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program, a form of self-help aid that  provides college students funds in exchange for part-time employment, has long been touted as a way for students to help make college more affordable. There is much anecdotal evidence proving that the program helps low-income students stay in college and move into the workplace, but in recent research conducted by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), respondents reported some students awarded FWS funds are not taking advantage of the opportunity to find employment and help with college costs.

As part of its “Development of a Robust Federal Work-Study Program” project, NASFAA today released a framework for practitioners to use when creating and administering an optimal FWS program that helps match as many students as possible with FWS jobs well suited to them. Funded by a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant, NASFAA, in partnership with Public Agenda, conducted a literature review and policy scan, an online survey of 1,885 FWS administrators at colleges and universities across the United States who work with FWS programs, and 11 in-person focus groups with a total of 88 participants to focus in on the elements of a FWS that works best for students.

With an eye toward increasing student persistence and completion rates, the study examined the components needed to efficiently and effectively administer FWS and ways in which schools can strengthen their FWS programs while staying within federal parameters. Using information gleaned from these research efforts, NASFAA’s framework details the seven components needed for a robust FWS program and lists current practices that survey respondents and focus group participants have implemented on their own campuses and found to be successful.

“Many institutions are unaware of the empirical evidence that can lead to the most optimally run work-study program,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “And even if they recognize a need for change, schools may not know how to get started. The recommendations in this report aim to give program administrators a jumping off point to ensure that we’re serving students to the best of our abilities and that students are truly reaping the benefits of their Federal Work-Study awards.”

While these components can help strengthen the program at the institutional level, policymakers and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) have a role to play as well. In its executive summary report of the research conducted, NASFAA recommends that policymakers revise the campus-based aid allocation formula and expand the definition of the community service requirement, and that, whether it fall to ED or NASFAA, a best practices playbook and data infrastructure should be developed.

NASFAA’s experts are on hand to discuss the research conducted and the resulting recommendations for policymakers, institutions, the U.S. Department of Education in greater detail. To speak to a NASFAA expert, please email us at or call 202-785-6959.

These reports are based on research funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization that represents more than 20,000 financial aid professionals at nearly 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. NASFAA member institutions serve nine out of every ten undergraduates in the United States. Based in Washington, D.C., NASFAA is the only national association with a primary focus on student aid legislation, regulatory analysis, and training for financial aid administrators. For more information, visit

About Public Agenda

Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate divisive, complex issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on higher education affordability, achievement gaps, community college completion, use of technology and innovation, and other higher education issues. Find Public Agenda online at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter at @PublicAgenda.

Publication Date: 6/28/2016

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