Work study programs offer financial aid to students

By Eric Butler: PNT staff writer

As functioning businesses, universities are exceptional in that much of their staffs are composed of the customers themselves.

Students, particularly work-study students, at Eastern New Mexico University can be seen working the desks in virtually every department on campus.

It’s a characteristic of university life that’s not likely to go away anytime soon — not as long as the college needs workers and the students need money.

“I don’t think loans would be the greatest idea,” said freshman Santana Chavez, 18, from Dora, from her desk job at the Housing Department at ENMU. “I like to work. If I had free time, I would be bored.”

Work-study employment on campus is one of many forms of financial aid. Unlike student loans, however, the money made from the job is the student’s to keep with no strings attached.

Kelly Mitchell, ENMU financial aid specialist, said 394 students held down work-study jobs during the 2008-09 school year.

Although she recommends students needing aid apply by March 1 of the previous school year, Mitchell added that anyone still in need of financial aid now can try to get it.

Mitchell typically sets a cap of $4,200 for students to make in a work-study job because most don’t end up working enough to garner that total. Students are limited to 20 hours of work per week, unless it’s during official breaks and the amount is doubled.

“The ones that work all year, if they have an unmet need, I’ll give them more,” Mitchell said.

The departments that use the most work-study students on campus tend to be the library, the physical plant and the financial aid office itself, although Mitchell said almost every department employs the students.

Some students start out as work-study and end up being what is called “student hire,” in which money from the departments themselves cover the students’ wages — as opposed to the money being supplied by federal or state sources as with work-study.

“I probably have 10 students, and three are work-studies,” said Barbara James, director of campus life. “I couldn’t tell you the difference between them, unless they told me.”

James, like most supervisors, is aware of the students’ need to cram for tests, and she takes in stride a little studying at the desk, at least in certain situations.

“They know it’s a job,” she said. “If there’s downtime, we don’t mind.”

At Golden Library, where Josh Kelly was a work-study student last year and is on student-hire status for the moment, there is a chance to peek at the class material.

“We can have the books here at the desk,” Kelly said. “We can look over the notes; we just can’t have it spread out all over the place.”