Despite a 2018 working group recommendation to increase funds for the University’s Off-Campus Federal Work-Study program, funding for OCFWS remains unchanged and is still unable to support all students who want to participate.
OCFWS allows students with federal work-study funding in their financial aid package to get paid for volunteering off-campus with community partner organizations. This semester, the Swearer Center for Public Service had the funds to support just 110 of the 148 qualified students who applied for the OCFWS program, said Betsy Shimberg, assistant dean of the college and director of student development at the Swearer Center. Due to this restricted funding, some students who have worked through OCFWS in the past were waitlisted this semester.
In 2018, the program faced this same problem, The Herald previously reported. The University allocates seven percent of federal work-study funding to OCFWS, which is the federally-required minimum level of funding for the program. This percentage allocation is the lowest in the Ivy League, according to a resolution written by the Student Advisory Committee in the Swearer Center for Public Service in 2018.
To address the funding shortfall, the SAC in the Swearer Center proposed increasing funding for OCFWS to 14 percent in 2018. A Student Employment Working Group chaired by Dean of Financial Aid Jim Tilton then formally recommended that the University increase its OCFWS allocation to 10 percent.
This proposed funding increase, along with other findings and suggestions in the report, were reviewed by the Brown University Community Council and a number of other offices such as the Office of Financial Aid, the Office of Dean of the College and University Human Resources, according to Provost Richard Locke P’18.
“The suggestion to move to 10 percent was not rejected,” Locke wrote in an email to The Herald. “It remains under consideration and is something that requires additional data, including an assessment of overall demand, which is underway.”
Ethan Morelion ’20, former chair of the SAC in the Swearer Center who helped write the OCFWS resolution in 2018, said he thought the University would implement the proposed 10 percent OCFWS allocation that same year. But despite support from the Office of Financial Aid and the Swearer Center, the recommendation was put on hold for further consideration by the University.
Locke explained that “in some cases, it’s possible that action on some recommendations may be implemented in the shorter term, while others require additional review.”
Later this month, Dean of the College Rashid Zia ’01 will meet with representatives from the Office of Financial Aid and the Swearer Center to discuss potential pathways and funding sources to expand the OCFWS program.
“Although there are no guarantees, I am hopeful that one of these plans will allow us to both expand the program and improve student support, while also gathering information and feedback to drive further improvements,” Zia wrote in an email to The Herald.
Increasing the OCFWS allocation would require the Office of Financial Aid to reduce funds for the on-campus federal work-study allocation and other financial aid priorities, Shimberg said. But she still hopes to see the University increase OCFWS funding. “It’s really hard when we’re not able to fund a student for their work off-campus, and it’s something that the student really wants to do. … Then they have to take a job (on-campus) that they’re less excited about. That doesn’t feel good at all from where I sit.”
Morelion said that the lack of progress on OCFWS funding since 2018 has been “disheartening” for him. As a Bonner Community Fellow, working in the Providence community “has been one of the most defining things” of his time at the University. “I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity, but I know that other students of similar economic backgrounds will not be able to enjoy it solely because of this funding issue, not because they’re unqualified and not because there’s not a need in the community,” Morelion said.
While Shimberg is still searching for a way to increase funding for the OCFWS program, she has worked to maximize the existing funds so that more students can participate. For example, by limiting the number of OCFWS placements offered over the summer, the program was able to accept 25 more students this semester.
Though the proposal to increase OCFWS funding to 10 percent remains under consideration, another funding recommendation from 2018 was passed to help more community organizations participate in the OCFWS program. Previously, community partners employing OCFWS students were required to reimburse the University for 25 percent of each student’s earnings, said Tracy Frisone, senior assistant director of financial aid. The University waived this 25 percent reimbursement requirement for community partners, Tilton said.
“By the University covering that 25 percent share, they’ve been able to increase the number and diversity of different types of opportunities for students and take the burden off the (community) agency,” Frisone said.
Morelion said the University should give greater consideration to student needs, adding that OCFWS is aligned with the University’s values of “ethical engagement with the community” and its goals of “experiential learning and preprofessional work.”
“When we prevent students because of their economic background from being able to do community engagement, … we’re denying an entire group of people from being able to be the next leaders of community engagement work,” Morelion said.