Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Problems with Public Education at the University Level: Pt. 1

Since there's so much that bothers me about college education these days, I'm just going to start a series instead of writing a novel-length post detailing all of my various complaints.

Today's complaint: Work Study.

Your typical financial aid package includes things like loans, grants, scholarships, awards, personal contribution, parental contribution and, finally, work study.

What is work study, you might ask? Allow me to purvey ya'll a definition [taken from Wikipedia.]:"The Federal Work Study program, FWS, is a United States federally funded program that assists students with the costs of postsecondary education. The Federal Work Study Program helps students earn financial funding through a part-time work program."

Sounds good right? A program designed to help students pay for their education by getting them valuable work-experience. Business get cheap labor, students get financial aid, and the economy goes round.


What you are not being told is that work study jobs are not only rare, but highly competitive as well. Many businesses and colleges that participate in the program simply do not have enough jobs to fill the need of those qualify for them.

What you're also not being told is that this high demand is created because universities give EVERYONE clearance for work study eligibility. Sure, they say it's based on "financial need", but they define this as someone who can't pay for their education all at once. (Hell, I don't think anyone except the super-rich could afford to drop 40k+ in one go just for college.) This means that my broke-ass is competing for need-based jobs with people whose parents help pay for their college!

What they're also also not telling us is that work study eligibility is included in your total financial aid package, even if you do not actually receive a work study job. What's that mean for the great masses of unemployed work study students? It means that the university says they're giving you 4 grand per year (2k per semester)
and so you don't need an additional four thousand to cover the gap because some lil' frat-punk took yer job so they could sit on Facebook all day while you starve to death on Ramen noodles wondering how you'll ever get any work experience or even pay for your classes.

It's quite frustrating to see your fin-aid package say 20k for cost-of-living expenses, and then find out it's actually 16k, and there's nothing you can do to get more money since the university says you've gotten money already -- even if that money they "gave" you doesn't actually exist.

The psychological trauma of worrying about how you'll pay for school, pay for books, pay for food, pay your rent is something that makes the daily grind of homework and lectures almost impossible, if not downright damaging to your overall education.

But alas, institutions are unthinking, unfeeling, uncaring.

Which is why I have to use creative accounting!

So it goes.


7 footnotes:

Mira said...

I am not sure if I understand how this goes, but it sure sounds bad.

The worst thing is the class discrimination. it's not fair for poor students to compete with others for financial needs. I am aware that even those who get help from their parents have financial troubles, but if the goal is to help those who need money the most, then give the money to those who really need it. And give the whole amount, not 4000 short. As if they target those who can rely on their parents for financial help and not poor students.

I always imagined it's better in the US job/career-wise. I always thought people with university degrees are valued in the US, that they can find good jobs with their qualifications and that the only obstacle is to find the money to finance the college/university itself.

So I guess it's not that ideal at all, especially for the poor students. Which is unfair. Education should be free for all, or at least those who are responsible and really want to study. The program you described seems like one of those things that look great on paper, but suck in reality.

There's no such thing here (part time jobs practically don't exist). Universities are generally free (if you are good), but it still means your parents need to support you and pay for you. If they can't, you must work full time (usually in the black/grey economy because it's difficult to find a regular job) AND study at the same time. And if you somehow manage to do that and be one of the top students in your class (like I did), nobody cares and you can't do anything with it unless you have "veza" (connection) to get at least a semi-decent job OR if you decide to emigrate.

Sorry for the long rant. These things always piss me off.

Zek J Evets said...

indeed! hence my new series of rants about my complaints with public education =)

oy vey, just wait till i start getting into the problems with jobs and how universities don't tell students about how their studies can be applied to getting PAID.

Jasmin said...

I don't know if I can comment on this post without ranting, so bear with me.

Work-study is bullsh*t. What colleges fail to acknowledge (because it's not hat they don't know) is that even if you do get a work-study job, those jobs don't offer enough hours for you to actually make money that can go towards tuition. I currently have 2 work-study jobs (working in an office and tutoring athletes); at my high point I had 4, and that still didn't net me more than maybe $500 a semester. You have to work around class, work hours (generally 9-5 when most students have--you guessed it--class), and extracurriculars, so it's nearly impossible to work 8 hours a week (which is what work-study is usually based on).

On another note, Mira, getting a college education here means that most people just accept the drawback of paying back a crapload of student loans because they believe the benefits of a college degree will work in their favor. Most schools are too cheap to give you a full ride, unless you are leaps and bounds overqualified, and lots of schools pad their offers with federal loans so the $10000 it looks like they're giving you is really $4000 with $6000 in loans. At this point, I'm convinced that higher education is pretty much a scam.

Zek J Evets said...

@jasmin: mmhmm! ya'll are doing my blogging for me : )

Jessica Isabel said...

I work two jobs. One is work-study, one is not. The work-study can only offer me 7 hours a week. So... what am I supposed to do with a 14 hour paycheck at the end of 2 weeks? Oh, scratch my as with it. I see. My bad.

Natasha W said...

Re: Work study eligibility, I knew a lot of students whose parents paid the bill in full at the beginning of the school year. A lot. But I don't think my school is very representative in that regard, since I also knew many students who had relatives who were politicians, businessmen, celebrities, or otherwise noteworthy. Even some of the students I'd thought were "ordinary" gave me a shock when I Googled their names.

I never had work-study, so I can't really comment on its struggles. I thought that the more highly endowed schools had better work-study. (This may be true or not.) I knew students who had work-study jobs, but they all liked their jobs or at least tolerated them.

College, IMO, is not extremely worthwhile in respective to its expenses unless you major in/study the hard sciences, law, or business. I still think one should attend, because it is generally looked upon favorably.

Zek J Evets said...

@jessica: haha! exactly. universities and financial aid offices are so out-of-touch with student's financial needs. it's almost funny -- except not really.

@natasha: i think the cost/benefits of college are out of wack, but yet people still need to get an education, and instead of being a positive experience it turns into a sacrifice -- one which ultimately will not be sustainable as we move forward. i've heard a lot of talk about the college "bubble" bursting.

but i guess we'll see.