ED Launching Federal Work Study Experiment

Jerry Ashworth
May 30, 2019 at 07:37:29 ET
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Experimentation has long been a key aspect of learning. Trying new things may not always work, but it sometime leads to tremendous innovations. With this as a backdrop, the Department of Education (ED) has announced that it is launching a new experimental site, while encouraging participation in another existing experimental initiative.

The new Federal Work-Study (FWS) Experiment aims to provide institutions of higher education with increased flexibilities that will enable students to earn work-study benefits while participating in apprenticeships, internships and work-based learning programs, as well as earn work-study wages while completing required clinical rotations, externships and student teaching.

“For decades, the Federal Work-Study program has allowed students to support themselves while earning a college degree, but for too long, the majority of the work options students have had access to have been irrelevant to their chosen field of study,” said ED Secretary Betsy DeVos. “That will change with this experimental site. We want all students to have access to relevant earn-and-learn experiences that will prepare them for future employment.”

Congress authorized the Experimental Sites Initiative under section 487A(b) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended. This Initiative — or “experiments,” as they are frequently called — tests the effectiveness of statutory and regulatory flexibility for participating institutions disbursing Title IV student aid. ED has waived specific statutory or regulatory requirements at the postsecondary institutions, or consortia of institutions, approved to participate in the experiments.

The FWS experiment will test the effectiveness of engaging more students in private-sector employment, increasing the number of work-based learning opportunities available to students and providing greater flexibility in the number of hours a student may work. Additionally, the experiment will measure the effectiveness of improving student retention and completion, increasing student work-readiness, and improving post-graduate employment opportunities.

Under the current FWS program, nearly 92 percent of all funds are spent to support students in on-campus employment, while just over eight percent support students working for non-profit organizations. Less than one-tenth of one percent, or just $726,000 of the billion-dollar FWS program, are spent to support students in private-sector employment, where many students are likely to seek permanent employment. The experiment seeks to eliminate a number of the barriers that made engagement with private-sector employers undesirable for many colleges and universities. Under this experiment, an institution is no longer limited in the amount of its FWS funding it can allocate to private-sector employers, and it will remove other requirements related to community service work opportunities.

The experiment also will study the impact of paying students engaged in required externships, clinical rotations or student teaching on factors such as completion, student satisfaction and reduced borrowing, and will reduce the wage share for certain private-sector employers — such as small businesses — to equal that of non-profit employers. The goal is to produce spillover effects that engage employers more actively in curriculum and program review, ED said.

ED also said that it would expand the Second Chance Pell experiment by allowing new cohorts of colleges and universities to participate. This experiment has already provided a number of students with new educational opportunities that prepare them for college and workplace success. Adding additional students and institutions to the experiment will help to improve the Department’s ability to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.

This experiment provides need-based Pell Grants to individuals incarcerated in state and federal prisons so that they can enroll in postsecondary programs offered by local colleges and universities. Currently, there are 64 schools in 26 states participating in this experiment. In 2015, more than 200 schools submitted applications seeking to participate. The goal is to give more institutions a chance to participate.

To learn more about current and past experiments, please visit experimentalsites.ed.gov.

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