NASFAA Research on Federal Work-Study

FWS Executive SummaryWhile there is a lot of anecdotal evidence proving that Federal Work-Study (FWS) helps low-income students stay in college and move into the workplace, few institutions have actual data. In addition, many institutions are unaware of their options for expanding their programs and lack the know-how of which metrics to review to evaluate effectiveness, as well as the technical infrastructure to do so. In Winter 2015, NASFAA was awarded a grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to conduct a study of the components needed to efficiently and effectively administer FWS and ways in which schools can strengthen their FWS programs to yield greater persistence and completion among students while staying within federal parameters. The goal of this research was to determine what components would create a framework for understanding, evaluating, and improving FWS that program administrators could use on their campuses.

In order to identify the framework components and recommendations in this report, NASFAA, in conjunction with Public Agenda, conducted the following research.  Findings were also presented during a release event on Tuesday, June 28th.

Literature Review and Policy Scan Report

In this work we offer a policy scan that reviews the existing policies pertaining to FWS, covering a brief history of FWS and explaining the roles of the U.S. Department of Education (ED), higher education institutions, and students’ employers. We conclude by summarizing the literature and most significant studies examining the effects of participation in FWS.

National Survey Report

In this work NASFAA distributed surveys to capture information on best practices and innovative programs in FWS. The surveys were sent to staff at colleges and universities across the United States who work with FWS programs. Of the 1,885 total respondents, the final database included 1,207 respondents in financial aid positions (64% of total respondents) and 678 respondents working in other departments (36% of total respondents).

Focus Group Report

NASFAA conducted eleven focus groups with a total of 88 participants to discuss innovative practices in FWS; challenges and pain points in the administration of the program; and ways institutions can use data to improve it. These groups were comprised of financial aid administrators (FAAs) and other individuals who worked for public four-year institutions, private institutions, and community colleges and indicated they handled one or more components related to the administration of the FWS program, as identified by an online survey.

Based on the findings from our research, we put forth the following 17 recommendations that address the project goals:

For Policymakers

1. Revise the campus-based aid allocation formula.
2. Expand the definition of the community service requirement.

For Institutions

3. Use FWS to reduce loan borrowing and indebtedness.
4. Identify ways that those working with FWS can be innovative in addressing the program’s policies and procedures.
5. Have a staff position dedicated to implementing innovative FWS practices.
6. Examine best practices and implement peer mentoring for FWS students.
7. Build cross-campus relationships and leverage partnerships between entities with similar goals relating to FWS.
8. Streamline the FWS pipeline.

For NASFAA and/or the U.S. Department of Education

9. Increase the capability of institutions to gather, examine, share, and utilize data relevant to FWS practices.
10. Look for ways to help institutions increase their effectiveness in assisting FWS students to meet their educational or career goals.
11. Implement a national FWS student survey.
12. Develop a best practices playbook.
13. Develop a data infrastructure and support for data use.

For Future Research

14. Conduct further empirical research on FWS practices.
15. Conduct more research on the real life experiences of FWS students.
16. Examine the types of jobs performed by FWS students and the associated outcomes.
17. Assess the effects of FWS awarded with different combinations of student aid.

Executive Summary Report

The details on each of these 17 recommendations may be found in our Executive Summary Report.

Download Report

Step-by-Step Framework for Development of a Robust Federal Work-Study Program

Our research indicates that an optimally functional and innovative FWS program incorporates all of the following components:

  • Area #1: Identify Function Locations
  • Area #2: Address Award/Employment Disconnect
  • Area #3: Advertise
  • Area #4: Match Students with Jobs
  • Area #5: Monitor Award Usage
  • Area #6: Address Logistical Obstacles
  • Area #7: Measure Program Effectiveness

In order to facilitate these components, four “knowledge organization systems” have been created to help guide institutions in executing a successful FWS program. The components identified in this system are a result of findings from our literature review and policy scan, national survey, and focus groups reports above. The systems also include  “Promising Innovative Practices” sections, which list current practices for each of the seven areas that survey respondents and focus group participants have implemented on their own campuses and found to be successful.


Please note: We also received responses from for-profit and graduate/professional sectors, but due to the low response rates from these institutions in our national survey and participation rates in our focus groups we could not create a system specifically for those sectors. All responses from these sectors have been included in the “Overall” document above.

This material is 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.

Publication Date: 6/28/2016

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