Amherst College prides itself on its accessibility to students of all backgrounds: it’s one of just five colleges in the country that is need-blind for both domestic and international students, and, according to its website, Amherst “meets the full demonstrated need of every admitted student.” Undeniably, Amherst’s financial aid policy is among the most generous of its peer institutions. And yet, the college is clearly failing in one key area: work study requirements.
Williams College recently announced that effective Fall 2022, it will eliminate all loans, required work study, and summer earnings contributions from all students’ financial aid packages — becoming the first college in the country to implement such a system. To provide its students with a truly equitable education, Amherst needs to do the same.
Work study — which is subsidized at Amherst by federal government funding through the Federal Work-Study Program — essentially allows students with demonstrated financial need to cover their educational expenses by working a part-time job. The funds students earn through work study are intended to help address “personal expenses” and are not directly owed to the college.
Nonetheless, when the college calculates financial aid packages to meet students’ demonstrated financial need, it counts work study as a part of eligible students packages. This means that receiving a work-study component actually leads students to receive less financial aid. It creates the false assumption that the college is covering that money when, in reality, it is your own labor that is filling the gap.
Even beyond that, work study only creates more stress for the students it aims to help. Students are left with little to no direction from the administration on where to apply for jobs, and although on-campus supervisors are encouraged to prioritize students with work study, getting a job is never guaranteed. The students who get work are then tasked with working on top of managing a full course load just to have enough money to support themselves.
Work study grants are also an equity issue: students who are not on financial aid collect wages as an added bonus. Work-study students, meanwhile, receive less grant aid, making up the difference with money they earn. Moreover, work-study participants, many of whom are low-income students, may need to take out loans if they are unable to meet their work-study expectation. This further inflates the financial burden that many students are already under, and goes against the college’s mission of being “loan-free.”
The college has already shown that work-study isn’t necessary: it suspended work study and summer earning requirements for the 2020-2021 academic year due to Covid. However, it was brought back for the 2021-2022 academic year. From Fall 2022 onwards, the work-study component will be decreased from six hours to four hours a week. But if Amherst is dedicated to ensuring educational equity and academic excellence for all students, then work study — which piles work and stress onto students who must then dedicate less time and effort to academics — cannot be a part of it at all. If Williams can do it, then so can we.
Unsigned editorials represent the views of the majority of the Editorial Board — (assenting: 16; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 1).