What Happens to College Students' Work-Study Jobs During the Coronavirus Crisis?
March 10, 2021
Campus closures across the U.S. have brought logistical and financial concerns, among other challenges, for student workers. Will they still get paid? Will they have a job when they return to campus? And what can they do in the meantime?
On March 6, 2020, the University of Washington (UW) announced that it would cancel all in-person classes and move to online formats to contain the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness associated with the new coronavirus.
The news came a week after an online petition was shared among the school’s student body asking the university, which enrolls nearly 50,000 students, to close. Just three hours into circulation, it had over 5,000 signatures.
Washington is a major focal point for the coronavirus in the United States; two days before UW called for a campus-wide residence hall closure, the number of people diagnosed with the new coronavirus infection across Washington State had reached 45. Ten of them had died. Initially, the university planned to keep all social distancing measures in place until March 20, the end of the university's winter quarter. But now, positive tests of COVID-19 in the UW community have reached 20, with 11 new cases and the death of a longtime faculty member in the past five days.
As patients recover at home and out of state, the school has doubled down on their concerns about COVID-19 with new measures to continue remote instruction through the end of the spring quarter.
Meanwhile, the new coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the U.S., forcing a growing number of colleges and universities to clear their campuses by urging students to go home and remain there.
Minimizing the risk of exposure to and spread of the virus is, of course, exactly what such drastic measures are intended to do. But they also bring logistical and financial concerns, among other challenges, for student workers. Will they still get paid? Will they have a job when they return to campus? And what can they do in the meantime?
Will college students continue work-study jobs (and will they be paid)?
As of Monday, March 23, data from the School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University indicates that the number of U.S. COVID-19 cases has surpassed 40,000 and resulted in 485 deaths. Amid the chaos, the U.S. Department of Education has offered guidance for schools—and flexibility to students who may be experiencing interruptions not only to their studies but also their work-study jobs.
The guidance addresses financial aid implications of situations that may arise as a result of the increased spread of the virus. In particular, it stressed that colleges that close their campuses can continue paying work-study wages, provided certain conditions are met. The Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid outlines the Federal Work-Study Program (FWS) as one that provides part-time jobs to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students with financial needs. These jobs are administered by schools participating in FWS and allow students to earn money to help pay education expenses.
While the Education Department said it is “unlikely that an entire region would be declared a federal disaster area," to students enrolled at a campus that must close temporarily, “the loss of this important form of financial aid can be devastating."
Under its guidelines, colleges can still pay work-study students for any scheduled hours or allow them to work by another means, such as online or remotely. The Education Department says that in the former instance, schools should document COVID-19 disruption as the reason students received FWS funds without documentation of hours worked.
To note, payment is only possible for colleges that continue to pay their faculty and staff. And since most colleges split the cost of work-study wages with the federal government, they must keep up their end of the bargain there too.
How can students secure work-study jobs for next semester?
Many colleges will likely reevaluate whether students will return to finish their studies in-person if the crisis resolves itself in the near future. But as the confirmed Covid-19 caseload only continues to rise, the risk of students returning to U.S. campuses remains far too great.
It’s a grim outlook, yes. And given the outbreak’s impact on federal financial aid, it’s also likely that the situation has many students questioning the state of their FWS employment, especially as work-study is not guaranteed from one academic year to the next.
Like most processes involving financial aid, these jobs are given on a first-come-first-serve basis. At the same time, it’s certain that the federal work-study landscape even six months from now isn’t the top issue that colleges and universities currently face.
With this in mind, the smartest move for students who are eager to secure a work-study job for next semester is to keep an eye on FAFSA deadlines and apply to available FSW positions as early as they can. Students can also contact their career center or office of student employment for additional help securing work.
If all else fails, no need to panic. Students can gain many of the benefits they'd receive from work-study through a range of part-time jobs. There are all types of businesses surrounding college campuses that hire students and can easily work with their class schedules. Restaurants, retail stores, coffee shops, and supermarkets are just a few examples.
Worthwhile online jobs for college students
As companies all over the work make their operations remote for the first time to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the trend of working from afar is experiencing a major boost. And it’s not just white-collar workers who are benefitting from it.
Whether a part-time job with a flexible schedule or a series of one-off projects, countless paid positions allow any college student with a Wi-Fi connection to work from wherever they happen to be. Here are a few examples:
1. Online survey taker:
Survey taking is an easy side gig to try, especially as many survey sites offer free signup and don’t require any specific education or skill.
Where to start: Swagbucks surveys offer different payouts, with some offering as much as $50. Payment can be redeemed through gift cards to businesses like Amazon, Walmart, Olive Garden, Starbucks, and Target. Survey Junkie users earn points by completing surveys, which can pay anywhere from $2 to $75 per completed survey. The longer and more detailed the survey, the higher the pay.
2. Online tutor:
Most online tutor jobs are part-time. Some tutoring platforms pay by the hour, while others offer tutors a platform to connect with students and then collect a percentage of their earnings.
Where to start: Chegg Tutors helps tutors connect with middle school, high school, and college students and support them across a wide range of subjects. Aspiring tutors must at least be currently enrolled in a four-year university program to apply. QKids is one of the world’s largest online English tutoring sites. It’s ideal for students who are currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree since classes are taught in groups and teachers aren’t required to plan lessons.
3. Virtual assistant:
Students in this role provide various services to entrepreneurs and businesses from a remote location. Their work may include completing digital marketing tasks, scheduling appointments, or managing events and personal errands.
Where to start: Fancyhands focuses primarily on smaller tasks that take anywhere from 15-20 minutes to complete. While seasoned virtual assistants may not benefit from this site, it’s a great place for beginners to gain experience. VANetworking acts as a one-stop-shop for virtual assistants with tons of free resources and education for learning the ins and outs of networking and finding work.
Students with a solid typing speed and even better grammar skills should consider this niche. In it, they’ll listen to recorded or live audio files and convert what they hear into text.
Where to start: Bam! offers work in entertainment, legal, corporate, finance, and research, transcription services, among others. Applicants must pass a skills test to be considered for a contractor role. Daily Transcription specializes in corporate, legal, and entertainment transcription with same-day turnaround times. They’re known to work with transcriptionists at all experience levels as long as they’re reliable.
5. Data entry clerk:
This position is involved entering and updating information within a company database, whether making editing changes to the company handbook, scanning in documents to be kept on file, or updating customer accounts.
Where to start: Amazon Mechanical Turk—or Amazon MTurk—allows companies to hire out “microtasks" to independent contractors. Some of the more popular jobs featured on MTurk are positions like data entry workers and operators. Clickworker provides an abundance of data entry-related work opportunities, with many tasks ranging from proofreading to data collection across the web.
6. Search engine evaluator:
This role is responsible for conducting research and providing feedback that measures the accuracy of specific web search results, as well as how useful and relevant they are.
Where to start: Appen is ideal for freelance search evaluators who are native speakers of the language in which they are working, knowledgeable about the internet, and familiar with a wide variety of online news sources. Lionbridge is a well-known company that specializes in providing translation and localization services and pays around $13 – $14 per hour.
7. Apple customer support:
The tech powerhouse offers current college students the chance to work remotely as an Apple Support College Advisor. When customers contact Apple for help, they're responsible for answering questions about products and services and acting as "their human connection" to the company.
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