The start of the Fall 2020 semester threw many Georgetown students into financial panic. As students tried to determine whether they could afford to attend school virtually and secure a safe place to live, the release of new financial aid packages came as a shock for a significant proportion of Georgetown’s student body, as students found their aid from previous semesters slashed, and their expected family contribution skyrocketed.
Although student protest and appeals to the university resulted in the reevaluations of many packages, problems still persist as some students struggle to secure federal work-study jobs. Over a third of the student body receives federal work-study as a component of financial aid packages.
When Georgetown’s main campus closed this spring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, students on work-study continued to get paid for their normal amount of hours even if they were no longer working their on-campus jobs. This policy, however, was not carried through to the Fall 2020 semester, and as many traditional work-study jobs are not operational in an online format, some students are struggling to access work-study funds due to their inability to find a university position.
Despite university assurances that a large number of work-study positions would be available, some students have struggled to get a job halfway through the fall semester.
Anika Venkatesh (SFS ’22) applied to multiple jobs before finding a position in late September. While she is grateful to now have a work-study position, she feels that there were many barriers to gaining employment.
Initially, Venkatesh expected that if she applied to enough open positions, which included being a technical assistant to aid professors with Zoom and virtual learning, she would be bound to get accepted to at least one job.
“I was applying for a bunch of jobs and not hearing back,” she said. “Eventually, it took me reaching out to my financial aid officer to be like ‘Hi, I am not getting a job and I really need one.’”
Venkatesh, a student living in India, applied for as many three-hour time slots to be a technical assistant as possible regardless of time zone differences, willing to sacrifice sleep for a work-study position. Still, none of the slots she was available for were needed.
“I filled out as many time slots as I could, I gave ones that were even five or six a.m. my time because I needed the job, and it still did not work. There was maybe one slot every day I couldn’t sign up for because of classes,” Venkatesh explained.
While Venkatesh did receive a work-study job later in the semester, she is not the only student surprised at the difficulty for students to secure a highly demanded work-study position.
Jameson Nowlan (SFS ’23) commented that while there are many professors who would benefit from the help of a technical aid, a lack of communication is preventing students from fulfilling these positions and accessing the work-study within their financial aid packages.
“I know there are many classes out there that applied for technology aids and never received any students, and then there are students who have work-study funds but don’t have a job to use them,” Nowlan said. “There is a labor force, and there is a demand for labor.”
Since the government is subsidizing the university’s federal work-study this semester, Nowlan, who works a work-study-only job as a box office manager in the Department of Performing Arts, expected that even more work-study hours would be made available to students. However, she observed a decrease in positions available, as her department took on only 10 student workers this semester as opposed to the usual 20.
“It is not that less people are on work-study, it’s that there are less positions,” she explained. “They are very strict that if you are not valuable to the department you won’t get paid.”
A Sept. 1 GUSA press conference confirmed that the university was attempting to offer as many remote work-study jobs as possible, and students are encouraged by the Student Office of Employment to apply to a number of jobs to increase chances of securing a position.
In addition to the technology aid positions, students can also apply for traditional work-study jobs via HoyaWorks. As of Oct. 10, there are eight jobs on and off-campus available for students on work-study, and seven jobs on-campus available for students not on work-study. Each opening is only looking for one student to fill the position.
Amidst student calls to make financial aid more transparent, Nowlan chalks up many of the challenges in securing work-study employment to the complexities of Georgetown’s administrative processes.
The university’s work-study is handled by the Financial Aid Office, Office of Student Employment, and the direct bosses of student workers, according to Nowlan. She explained that if a student has a delay or question, they have to communicate with three separate bodies. For instance, when Nowlan’s financial aid package was edited during the semester, she had to move her employment starting day a week back to wait for the changes to be processed, delaying her source of income.
“The entire structure of financial aid at this university doesn’t make any sense. Work-study is a really big part of that,” she said. “It is really complex and not really well guided.”
While students living in the U.S., such as Nowlan, have faced challenges through the work-study process, the system is even more complicated for students abroad like Venkatesh, who must work around significant time differences for work-study positions based out of Washington, D.C.
“As someone who is living in India, I was making big concessions with time zones. It was a factor, but had to stop being one, because I needed the money more than the sleep,” she said.
Venkatesh anticipated during the summer that work-study students, especially those living internationally, would run into challenges within the student employment system, a prediction she has seen born out in the last two months.
“I did clearly state throughout this would be a problem,” she said. “You are giving me the max work-study I can get, that’s part of my aid, but you haven’t given me the resources to get the job. Now I am halfway done with the semester and I am just starting my job.”