Work-Study Jobs and Coronavirus: What to Know

By Alicia Geigel on May 16, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic, commonly referred to as the coronavirus, has completely dismantled our way of life. Across the country, retail stores are closed, hospitals are at max capacity, and millions of people have been forced out of their jobs. In addition to businesses and healthcare, one aspect that the Coronavirus has significantly impacted is our educational system. Both primary and higher education institutions across the country are shut down, making online education the new normal. This unprecedented and universal shift to virtual learning, through zoom conference class lectures and online testing, has impacted the college experience for students who are used to going to class, socializing with friends, and even working on campus.

For students who are eligible for or already have a work-study job, the pandemic has left them not only unable to go to classes but also work as well. For the several college students that rely on a work-study job to support themselves or even their family members, these new changes can be scary and unsettling. Are you a student who has recently be out of your work-study job due to the Coronavirus? Nervous about potential financial instability because of this recent change? Here is all you need to know about how work-study jobs have been affected by the pandemic and what you need to do.

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What is Federal Work-Study (FWS)?

Federal work-study gives undergraduate and graduate students with financial need the ability to work part-time jobs, allowing them to earn money to help pay for education expenses. Work-study jobs are related to your course of study if/when possible. For instance, when I was a film and screen studies major, I was able to have a work-study job as an usher for my university’s theater. The work can be both on or off-campus and you can earn at least the current federal minimum wage, if not more depending on the job title. The amount of hours you work is limited by your Federal Work-Study award, so your work will be in conjunction with your school’s financial aid office to determine how much you can work.

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My School is Closed Due to the Coronavirus. What About My Job?

According to National Center for Education Statistics, 6% of undergraduates earn money through federal work-study programs. Though this may seem like a small percentage, that is a large amount of students who rely on work-study jobs for at least partial financial support. Now, with the closure of colleges and universities, these same students are without a job, which leaves many wondering, what now?

Federal Student Aid of the Department of Education understands those concerns and addressed them in March, when the severity of the virus was increasing and action needed to happen. For students enrolled and working a federal work-study job at a campus that is closed due to COVID-19, or a student who works a federal work-study job and the employer is closed due to COVID-19, their college or university can continue to pay the student FWS wages during the length of the closure.

Mark Kantrowitz of Forbes elaborates on this, writing, “If a college student loses their Federal Work-Study job because their employer or the college closes due to the coronavirus pandemic, they may be eligible to continue receiving paychecks for up to one year. The pay will be based on the scheduled award, not the hours previously worked. Colleges may provide this money in a lump sum or periodic payments.

Additionally, students who were working part-time or full-time while in college may be eligible for unemployment benefits if their employer was forced to close due to COVID-19. Contact your university’s financial aid office for information regarding the disbursement of your federal work-study award.

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What About Next Semester?

At this point in time, universities and colleges are figuring out when to reopen and how to go about doing so. This is largely dependent on state government restrictions, which are enforced judging by the number of COVID-19 positive patients and the number of COVID-19 related deaths. Some universities, like UNCC, are delaying the start of the fall semester by opening two weeks later than the original start date. Others, like McGill University, are looking to start the fall semester online. Regardless of whether or not your college/university opens by the fall, be sure to still apply for financial aid, so you can have the ability to have a work-study job if circumstances make it possible.

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The Coronavirus pandemic has affected our lives in ways that none of us could have ever anticipated. In terms of higher education, students are left trying to do their best given the situation and be hopeful of a normal semester come the fall. Losing your work-study job is unsettling and scary, but remember that there are resources available for you to help you get through this difficult time. Good luck, and stay safe.

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