December 3, 2020

Webster University over awards work-study jobs to students last year, resulting in less positions this year

Aaron Obernuefemann (left), junior mathematics major, and Sean Barber (right) senior video production major, start their shift at their work study job at the UC Information Center. PHOTO BY BRITTANY RUESS/ The Journal

Webster University was given $792,897 in federal aid from the Department of Education last school year, but spent $1,156,921 by over awarding work-study positions to students. The University covered the cost of $364,024 by giving institutional funds to the Department of Education.

Liz Condon-Oakberg, student employment coordinator, said the university cannot award work-study positions to as many students as were awarded last year in order to stay on budget.

“How could we award the same number of students (this year)?,” Oakberg said. “This is the first year where we’ve ever gone over by that much money.”

Oakberg said the university awards more money than they have because they assume not every student who gets work-study is going to want to use it.

“If we have enough money for 100 students, we might over award by 200 students,” Oakberg said. “Because of that, this is not an exact science. We just don’t know until students start earning money. We won’t know exactly how this year is going to look. We’re trying to make it balance.”

The federal government’s cut in funding for education also plays a part in affecting work-study students. John Gruett, director of financial aid, said the 2 percent federal cut would not have a devastating impact on Webster students.

“That amount is to be roughly $20,000 here at Webster,” said Gruett. “That would equate to less than ten work-study awards, so I don’t think the university is going to have any problems whatsoever making up that amount.”

Oakberg said when she learned the university was going over budget in the spring semester, she emailed students who work on campus as well as the Financial Aid office to remind them to either apply or reapply their FAFSA to get the best chance to be awarded work-study.

However, Nell Fogg, a sophomore anthropology major, said she wasn’t aware she was required to reapply and found she was without work-study for this year just weeks before school began.

“I was really upset that it wasn’t common knowledge (to reapply),” said Fogg. Fogg said she recently got a job working part time, but knows it won’t be enough for her to pay for college.

“Not even if I save every penny; it’s not going to cover my bill,” Fogg said. “My family does not want me to work 40 hours and be at school full time. I’m doing this all by myself.”

Oakberg said students can appeal their denial for work-study.

“If there’s money left (for work-study) at the end of September, which is when we’re going to look at those appeals, then we will award those students. In September, we’ll have a better idea of how much money we have to spend and how much we’ve awarded.”

Peter Sargent, dean of the fine arts department, is helping his students who have been denied work-study fill out their appeal forms.

“Essentially every junior and senior was not awarded this year (in his department),” Sargent said. “They were (awarded work-study) last year. By the time these kids are juniors and seniors, we want to place them into roles of responsibility, but they weren’t awarded. It’s really a mess.”

Oakberg said if there is not enough money for work-study after they review the appeals in Sept., the university will try to employ students and pay them through department budgets.

“There is a horrible misconception right now that students are saying ‘I can’t work because I don’t have a work study job,’ but that’s not true,” said Oakberg. “We will try to increase what we can in terms of institutional aid.”

Gruett said that some students may no longer have work-study this year, but there are other options.

“Student employment is typically available to every student that’s here,” Gruett said. “It just may take on different forms than the actual work study program.”

Oakberg said the university will not leave students jobless.

“We had to look at how we allocate that federal work-study money because it’s not there, but we have the student’s interests at heart,” said Oakberg. “We’re not going to cut overall how many students we have working. You need the experience; we need you to have jobs when you graduate. So, it’s in our best interest to make sure you have what you need while you’re here.”

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