Q&A With Celena Tulloss, FAAC®, Chair of the Federal Work-Study Task Force

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

With the Federal Work-Study Task Force’s work now under way, chair Celena Tulloss, FAAC®, spoke with NASFAA about the task force’s upcoming plans.

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The purpose of the Federal Work-Study Task Force is to examine what changes — especially given the temporary nature of Federal Work-Study (FWS) flexibilities — schools implemented during the pandemic to their FWS programs, what challenges they are facing now as they look at transitioning the program back to the original regulations, and what flexibilities may be needed for this program to be successful into the future. Task force members will also research the best practices that schools are using in utilizing FWS students.

Celena is the director in the office of financial aid and scholarships at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and is passionate about the FWS program. Throughout her career Celena said she has seen firsthand how the program can change lives and influence students’ career trajectories. In addition to her task force leadership, Celena serves as the SASFAA representative on NASFAA’s Board of Directors. She’s also a volunteer member on the NASFAA Awards Committee, the Leadership & Legislative Conference & Expo FAAC Forum planning committee, and the Policy Rapid Response Network Task Force.

Read on to find out more about Celena’s mission for the Federal Work-Study Task Force.

What is the issue this task force is trying to address?

The goal of this task force is to look at challenges that face the Federal Work-Study program, both pre-pandemic, and especially challenges that have occurred through the pandemic and how we come out the other side and address those issues moving forward.

How will the task force help current and future aid directors advocate within their campus?

We have a wide variety of schools that are represented on the task force. We've had our first initial meeting and we're already finding that a lot of the challenges that we face are very common.

We feel that this committee, by amplifying our voices, challenges, and providing potential solutions to be considered, can give schools the tools that they need to be able to show their administrations that this is not a problem that's unique to them. It's not a problem that's unique to our students. This is a challenge that's facing schools across the country and different school types.

What influence will the evolving state of the pandemic have on your task force?

All of the schools involved are very grateful for the flexibilities that were granted to schools through the pandemic for the Federal Work-Study program. We were very thankful for the ability to be able to transfer funds over to the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program. But it's kind of set up an expectation with students that there is more FSEOG available and it's also led to perhaps less interest in the FWS program in general. We find that we're having to compete with off-campus employers — there are hiring issues across the country, not just in FWS. There's a lot of talk on our campuses about whether the issue is issue pay and if we need to take a look at the pay rates for these students. Is the issue that people want more flexible work schedules, work from home or remote-type work solutions? There were a lot of lessons learned through the pandemic and there are positive things that schools have taken that we want to move forward in terms of what we can offer students and where we can find flexibilities and hybrid options for students.

I think the big challenge will be trying to — if these flexibilities are not extended, or if new flexibilities aren't implemented — adjust back to pre-pandemic expectations when the world doesn't necessarily look the same as it did at that time.

Have there been any unique challenges to your own campus or have you seen a lot of similarities between the sort of FWS issues popping up across institutions?

It's been interesting to me how similar that it is across schools. We have a pretty diverse group of schools and school types that are represented on our task force. We have a school that is primarily an online type program, we have some religious affiliated schools, we have some for-profit schools that are represented. So it was surprising to me how similar the struggles are, across all these different school types ranging from the small private schools to the large public schools.

We also talked about how work-study has often been a pipeline for folks to work in the financial aid profession. As we see challenges in filling work-study positions, is that going to bleed over in our own offices? Are we going to have challenges with hiring staff? Because that's always been a great pipeline to be able to train and just to show people a little bit of how the financial aid process works, and to get them interested in financial aid as a career. That's another piece that we want to explore as a task force.

Why did you decide to serve on this task force?

It was kind of a perfect fit for me. The NASFAA Board of Directors was having conversations about Federal Work-Study and about the challenges that schools are facing. I sort of raised my hand and said, “Hey, this is something we're dealing with on our campus.”

We actually had already instituted a Federal Work-Study Task Force here at the University of Tennessee. We had been challenged, pre-pandemic, with trying to reimagine the work-study process and reimagine the program and how it looks on our campus. So the pandemic sort of threw a wrench into that work and we had to pivot to how to deal now with students that are remote. How do we deal with returning to campus, and some students returning, and some students not returning? I was more than willing to raise my hand and volunteer because this was near and dear to my heart.


Publication Date: 1/11/2023

Brenda B | 1/11/2023 11:25:23 AM

I implemented a Hawkeye Work Grant program at the UofI this fall and it has really benefited students and our Univ. Housing and Dining department. Student works 7 hrs/wk minimum and then also earns a grant of $250 in the Fall and $750 in the Spring. Total benefit to student is nearly $3000 and our Univ. Housing and Dining acquired another 100+ student employees. If you would like to know more, please let me know. Brenda Buzynski U of I [email protected]

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