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Expanding Federal Work-Study Opportunities for California Community College Students

Attending college without working is a luxury most California community college students do not have. In fact, nationally, 80 percent of today’s community college students work while going to class (39 percent of them work full-time), with many balancing their role as a primary source of income for their family and caring for young children. Jobs provide experience that prepare college students for their professional careers, but in many cases, work is an absolute necessity for students. And while working a moderate number of hours while in school has been associated with higher achievement, working too many hours can threaten degree completion.

The US Department of Education notes that, “Work-study is a way for students to earn money to pay for school through part-time on- (and sometimes off-) campus jobs. The program gives students an opportunity to gain valuable work experience while pursuing a college degree.” This is good news for students able to access federal work-study, but not all community colleges participate in the Federal work-study (FWS) program.

This brief provides an overview of the federal work-study opportunities and challenges in California’s community colleges. FWS can be beneficial in meeting the needs of today’s students, but community college students are disadvantaged when it comes to receiving FWS dollars compared to their peers at other institutions, and there is wide variation in the amount of FWS aid available from college to college.