Hiring Students on Work-Study

Hiring Students on Work-Study

Nonprofits and students benefit from federally-funded program

By: Karen Burgess Scaife

July 31, 2003

Nonprofit organizations often have a difficult time finding and keeping qualified employees. People may have the impression that NPOs don't pay well and that they lack effective technologies necessary for work (and certainly this is true for some organizations). But nonprofits still need good people willing to work for a good cause.

One way to resolve this problem is by hiring college students who receive federal financial aid in the form of work-study funding. The federal government, through the college or university, will reimburse an NPO that serves in the public interest 70 percent of a work-study student's pay. The student's wage must be at least the federal minimum, and the maximum number of hours a student can work each week are determined by the school.

Both the student and the NPO can benefit from such an arrangement. Students can earn money while getting experience in a field related to their course of study, and they can sharpen skills they're learning in school to help nonprofits do valuable work. The wages in these jobs don't pay as much as an internship, but the job can last longer and be flexible enough to accommodate the student's study hours. Of course, the experience will undoubtedly look good on a resume.

NPOs have the same needs for qualified personnel as for-profit organizations, and can appreciate the skills and energy students bring to the job. The work-study program helps provide NPOs with an unlimited supply of talented, knowledgeable employees. More importantly, NPOs can hire these sharp minds at an affordable cost.

As a student, I have volunteered and worked with a small NPO since 1995. Some of the jobs I did include serving as a temporary managing agent for its apartment complex and training other managing agents; researching, designing, and developing a commercial software product; Web designing; and training employees to use PC hardware and software.

The NPO was happy with the work-study arrangement because it was able to keep a person on staff for many years. In addition, the management felt comfortable paying me because they were confident in my abilities. The experience, and the reimbursements they received, encouraged them to hire additional students.

About Work-Study

Work-study is a financial aid program funded through the U.S. Department of Education. The program awards money to qualified students to allow them to work while enrolled in school. Students can work on-campus for the school, off-campus at for-profit agencies in jobs that are related to their fields of study, or off-campus at NPOs or government agencies that serve the public interest. This last category receives the largest reimbursement.

The NPO can list any job it has for work-study students with the college or university. Information about the job should include a job title, description, requirements, pay rate, duration, start date, and the number of positions available.

Students may find a work-study job by applying for such a posted position, or discussing a work-study arrangement with an NPO on their own.

After the NPO decides to hire the student, the procedure is pretty straight forward. The NPO contacts the student employment office at the local college or university and tells the representative that the NPO is hiring the student. If the NPO has never hired a work-study student before, the employment representative will explain the program and send the appropriate documents. The documents might include a booklet that explains student employment, a student personnel data form (which should be filled out with the student's personal data, job title, start/stop dates of employment, and hourly wage), and a contract between the university and the NPO.

The work-study student is treated like any other employee. If the student does good work, he or she can be retained and even receive a raise; if the work is shoddy, the student can be fired.

The student's hourly wage must be at least the minimum wage, but it can be higher based upon the type of work and skills required for a particular job. For example, when I worked for an NPO as a PC support specialist, my hourly wage was $15 per hour, the maximum my university would allow for that job. The pay ranges for any school are available from the student employment office.

The NPO pays the student as it does any other employee, but the NPO also submits a timesheet or payroll sheet to the school, according to the university's schedule. The university will, again according to its schedule, reimburse the NPO 70 percent of the gross salary.

Following are a few of the NPO's and the student's responsibilities:

The NPO's Responsibilities

  • Sign and return the contract before the student starts work.
  • In some cases, allow the school to pay a site visit. (When the university visited my NPO it was a painless experience. The student employment representatives took a look at the work area and stayed for a brief chat.)
  • Pay the student employee in a timely fashion, especially if reimbursement checks have been sent to the NPO.

The Student's Responsibilities

  • Maintain the school's minimum GPA.
  • Do not work overtime without permission.
  • Do not exceed the amount of the work-study award. If the student exceeds the amount of his or her work-study award, the school will not reimburse the NPO for this error.

To learn more, visit the U.S. Department of Education Web site.

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