By Daniela Villarreal (Florida State University, 2016)
The job-training program, known as Federal Work Study (FWS), is supposed to help college and university students like me to build foundational skills in our fields of study.
Unfortunately, the program, which began in the 1960s to help low-income students, has lost its focus and rising seniors like myself are facing a far more daunting jobs landscape than perhaps we should be because of this. This summer is a good time for lawmakers to start working to reform the program.
As a high school student during the Great Recession, I saw many friends and family lose jobs and I increasingly felt pressure to find work as the cost of college simultaneously rose. With more and more people pursuing college degrees across the country, it doesn’t seem like a diploma is enough anymore to start a career: you need hands-on experience in your field of choice, too.
The majority of employers — 79 percent, in fact — expect work experience from college graduates as they evaluate potential hires. Under FWS, all of the positions offered are supposed to be related to a student’s educational goals to the “maximum extent practicable” but that’s not what is happening.
In other words, many students are working jobs unrelated to their academic programs. Forty-seven percent of FWS job placements are unrelated to a student’s career or academic interests.
So what’s a low-income student, who’s dependent on supplemental income through FWS, to do if he or she also needs career-relevant experience?