Citizen Service Act Cuts Work-study Benefits

By By U Wire

By U Wire

Erin WillisThe Arbiter Boise State University

BOISE, Idaho?In January, President Bush announced plans to draft legislation changing how colleges and universities award federal work-study dollars.

Bush’s proposed Citizen Service Act of 2002 would mandate 50 percent of federal work-study funds be spent on employing students in community-service jobs.

The bill would amend the Higher Education Act currently requiring universities to allocate 7 percent of the budget to students working in non-profit and public organizations.

The change would also stipulate that a minimum of 5 percent of the students in the program work in areas of public safety, public health and emergency preparedness.

These modifications are part of the USA Freedom Corps, the community-service program Bush proposed in response to last year’s terrorist attacks.

“I think its intentions are good, but administratively, it would be difficult to carry out,” said David Tolman, director of financial aid and scholarships at Boise State University.

Tolman said program administrators would have to find up to $500,000 in community-service positions at area organizations and then coordinate student employment and payroll with each of the agencies.

He also said the proposal limits students’ opportunities.

“We try to pursue positions that will give students more meaningful experience,” Tolman said.

Work-study is a need-based program, he said, and one of the purposes is to allow students to gain experience related to their majors.

Tolman said if a student’s only option is to take a community-service job, it fails to serve that purpose.

Tolman said the existing AmeriCorps program would better serve students, as it does not have the strict need based component of the work study program, and students can apply earned funds toward loans.

“It actually works well, and the administrative structure is already in place to support community service,” he said.

Last year, more than 370 Idaho residents worked through the AmeriCorps program and received awards up to $4,725 to pay for college tuition or student loans, compared to the typical $3,500 annual award of the work-study program at Boise State University.

Tolman said many university departments depend on the work-study program for support and diverting the funds would affect their operations.

BSU’s Albertson’s Library employs about 75 work-study students who work up to 1,500 combined hours per two-week pay period.

Management Assistant Julie Clarkson said that for 2001, work-study students provided almost 27,000 hours of work, a figure equivalent to 13 full time staff members.

However, if the library lost federally funded positions, the library administration would be forced to do some budget reallocation, she said, and try to find funding from other sources.