Work study: Many students applying, few getting in

The work study program offered through Fanshawe is designed to help students find work on campus. It is a subsidy program that pays a portion of the student’s wages, making them a more attractive applicant and easing the financial burden on the college. However, vague questions, strict algorithms and short time-out windows have led to the rejection of a large number of students in need of financial assistance.

Many of the positions offered through the program still need to be filled regardless of how few students are accepted. This has resulted in faculties and departments having to hire outside employees, which means losing out on the subsidies and costing the college more money.

Alex Thoms is one of these students forced to work outside of the program. Thoms submitted his application three times before he was able to do it within the session timeout window and after all of that, his application still wasn’t processed.

“I never got an email back from work study at all,” Thoms said. “To my knowledge I was either not approved, but I don’t think that’s the case because they would let me know, or none of my information went through because of a problem with the website.”

Due to the urgency of his position with the school, Thoms’ employer was forced to hire him anyways.

Thoms commented saying, “I was hired outright as an outside employee to escape that process. The work study never happened because the website wouldn’t let me.”

Thoms isn’t the only student to encounter this issue. The Fanshawe Student Union (FSU) student president, Carlie Forsythe, spent time working at the Biz Booth despite her rejected application. For Forsythe, working on campus was the difference between being able to run for student council or not.

When asked how working off campus would have changed her life she replied, “I would have had to go somewhere else to find a job or once again go back to St. Thomas every weekend like I was. I wouldn’t have had time to run for VP Finance and then run for president after that.”

Forsythe has pointed out a deep flaw in the computer-based model saying, “The biggest [issue] of the work study application is that if a student is looking for a job then they’re in financial need, so having a strict application is really not beneficial at all.”

Through speaking with a number of students who appealed their rejected applications, it was discovered that most students were rejected for making simple mistakes on their form or even being as little as $40 outside of the eligibility requirements.

One student, who was asked to be referred by the name Bass Monkey, was particularly annoyed with the process and wanted to see more human interaction regarding the applications.

“The computers don’t take into consideration that you’re only $20 outside the amount you need to get accepted. But someone who is $20 below the amount still needs the money.”

Bass Monkey had a particularly frustrating experience after being unable to work during the summer due to a collapsed lung. With next to no money in his pocket he expected to be accepted into work study without issues, unfortunately he was still rejected.

“How can this happen? How can it be that a student doesn’t have enough money but they’re still getting rejected even though they need the money? The whole program is for students who need money.”

It is clear that the system needs to change. Dozens of students seeking to appeal their rejection are simply encouraged to exaggerate their values to become eligible for the process. While on the phone with the Registrar Office, Bass Monkey said that he was told, “You can put your spending amount for entertainment as $300 a month because that’s what most students put.” He went on to say, “I had it at $150 but because she told me to increase it to $300 it made me more likely to get in.”

While advice like this helps students tremendously, it points to a flawed system in deep need of a revamp.

Frank Trovato, associate registrar of fees for Financial Aid Services at the Office of the Registrar, said the intent of the work study bursary isn’t just a monetary one, but one where students can get that real work life experience, which can hopefully help them find a job in their field after school.

“We’re approving the eligibility for students to go and apply for one of the college jobs that each department, including the FSU are making available. We’re not saying [they have a job], rather you’re approved for this bursary, now go out and interview,” Trovato said.

For the 2016-2017 school year, Trovato said there were 925 applications received, with 221 approved and 704 not approved.

Trovato said this is a deceiving number, but there are a variety of reasons why this is so.

Kelly Armstrong, Fanshawe’s bursary and outreach co-ordinator for fees, at the Financial Aid and Student Award Services, along with Trovato listed off reasons why that number is high.

It included roughly 75 to 100 students sending in multiple applications, some students not filling in their full application, not being a full-time student, academic grades not met or perhaps it appears they have enough financial stability.

Another big one according to both Armstrong and Trovato, are applications needing clarification.

An email is then sent to the students to clarify that part of their application and it is up to the students to get back to them, which doesn’t always happen.

Trovato said the Financial Aid Office does not discriminate against those who use OSAP versus those who do not.

“We feel it’s our job to try and make it possible for [students] to get every single dollar that’s available to them,” Trovato said.

This includes roughly $1,500 per semester, or $3,000 per year for work study.

Of the 117 jobs available through work study, 97 are currently taken.

“Work study is the same as any other bursary we administer in Financial Aid. It’s based on financial need. We all have financial need, but [for this bursary] it’s financial need based on your study period, for going to school, your expenses and living costs while you’re at school,” Trovato said.

Trovato and Armstrong both agreed that if for some reason a student was not accepted for work study, there are other bursaries to help fill that financial gap.

They also said that students are always communicated with through email whether they were eligible for the program or not and are given a reason on why they may not have been accepted.

Students can appeal the decision and can always go into the office and speak with Armstrong.

The office hopes to have a new application system at some point, but it will take some time to implement.