September, 2017

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For many college students, work study is an important part of their college experience — it offers an opportunity to earn financial support while getting more connected to their college. But work study is much more than just a college job. It contributes to student success.

“In the long run, work study is an important retention tool,” said Sara Nephew, assistant director of financial aid, Minneapolis College of Art and Design. “The students who participate in work study are able to manage their time better and are much more likely to graduate.”

This is the case across Minnesota private colleges and nationally. According to researchers at Columbia University‘s Teachers College, work study improves academic outcomes, positively impacts early post-college employment and has the strongest effects for lower-income students.

In the 2015-16 school year, 55 percent of Minnesota private colleges’ traditional bachelor’s degree seeking full-time students received work study with the average award being $2,403 for the year.

Work study is most often awarded as part of a financial aid package. Along with work study, this package can include grants, scholarships and loans. “At MCAD work study is need-based, and this means there is a limited source of funding,” Nephew said. “We get resources from federal and state aid, and then we supplement the rest. Unfortunately, with state and federal funding staying flat and minimum wage increasing in Minneapolis, students may not get as many hours as they'd like — every department is closely watching their work-study budget."

The importance of work study goes beyond time management and financial support. “Getting to know students on a deeper level is very important,” Nephew said. “For students to have one more person to help and guide them is huge.” This close connection to staff and faculty is a trademark of liberal arts education and is important to overall student success.

As for the students, work study can be an integral part of their college experience. As well as the financial aspect, many students get an opportunity to connect with a field or discipline in a deeper way. “A lot of our students need the money to make college work, and it often grows from there,” Nephew said. “Depending on where they are working — whether it’s the print shop or an art instillation, they pick up skills they’ll be using in the work force.”

On the surface work study is a good way to support students financially, but for colleges and students it’s more than that. It’s a way to keep students engaged on campus, have them connect with more higher education professionals and potentially dive deeper into their field of study — it’s about student success.

By Tom Lancaster