Giving Compass' Take:

• Delece Smith-Barrow explains that a shift in the federal work-study program could take the program from a simple income source to a career preparation strategy. 

• Should the program shift to focus on career preparation? How can funders help to guide a more impactful work-study program? 

• Learn how colleges can build a better for work-study

Most federal work-study jobs don’t prepare students for life after graduation, according to a March report from the Urban Institute. But any efforts to improve the program could be made more difficult if the Department of Education’s 2020 budget proposal goes through.

“In today’s economy, where there is a strong focus on the role of relevant work experience in easing the transition from college to the workforce, there is good reason to focus on the nature of the jobs FWS provides and the marketable skills these jobs foster,” wrote Sandy Baum, the report’s author. According to her report, titled “Rethinking Work Study: Incremental Reform is Not Enough,” just 32 percent of work-study jobs are related to students’ coursework.

It was published three days after the White House released its proposals for reforming the Higher Education Act. The third proposal echoes Baum’s point: “Congress should reform the Federal Work Study (FWS) program to support workforce and career-oriented opportunities for low income undergraduate students, not just subsidized employment as a means of financial aid.” And Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos applauded the proposals. “There are 7.3 million unfilled jobs in the United States, yet too many Americans remain out of the workforce because they lack the skills necessary to seize these opportunities,” she said in a statement.

But Donald Trump’s administration is calling for the Federal Work-Study program to improve with far less money than the program has traditionally had. The 2019 budget for the program is $1.13 billion, but the Department is requesting just $500 million for it in 2020 – cutting it almost in half.

To be fair, the program, which started in the mid-1960s, began as a way to help lower-income undergraduate and graduate students with their educational costs, not as a career-training program.

Read the full article about work-study jobs by Delece Smith-Barrow at The Hechinger Report.