How To Develop a Community-Based Work-Study Program

Service-learning and community-based learning are high-impact practices that improve student retention and success. But for some students, time and funding can create significant barriers to community engagement. 

The Federal Work-Study (FWS) program is one way to expand access to community engagement. FWS awards help eligible students fund their studies and have a positive social impact by providing funding for community-engaged employment. Here's how your institution can benefit.

What is Federal Work-Study?

The Federal Work-Study (FWS) program is a federally-funded program administered by the U.S. Department of Education

It assists students with post-secondary education costs by providing funding distributed when students work on-campus jobs or take positions with nonprofit, governmental and community organizations. The FWS program aims to help students finance college and university while gaining professional experience and skills.

Who is Eligible for Federal Work-Study?

Students can apply for a federal work-study (FWS) award by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students should submit FAFSA the year before they begin college or university and every year during their studies. 

If students meet the eligibility criteria for FWS, they will receive an award in their financial aid package. The FWS award will stipulate how many hours students can work and the maximum award they can receive. If students are unsure whether they are eligible for FWS, direct them to your institution's financial aid office.

Developing a Community-Based Work-Study Program

The U.S. Department of Education requires that colleges and universities use at least 7% of their federal work-study (FWS) allocation to employ students in community service jobs. However, many schools aim to go above that minimum. Here are four steps to get started if you're looking to develop community-based opportunities for FWS-eligible students. 

Partner With Financial Aid

Since the U.S. government administers federal work-study funds, your school's financial aid office is responsible for administering and reporting on the funds. 

If you're working to build community-based federal work-study (FWS) opportunities, the first step you take must be to partner with your office of financial aid. They will be able to tell you how to ensure only eligible students participate in community-based FWS programs, how students should report their hours and what information you need to share with students and partners to comply with federal regulations.

Establish Partnerships With Community Organizations

The next step to establishing a community-based work-study program is establishing relationships with nonprofits and community organizations that can host your students.

Community partners can offer students valuable work experience, support, and guidance. When selecting community partners, it is crucial to consider the following:

  • Will the organization benefit from the type of work the students will do?
  • Is the organization able to provide adequate supervision and support?
  • Will the students benefit from the experience?
  • Does the community partner network share the same values as your institution?

Once you have established relationships, talk to your partners about how many students they can host, how many hours they would like students to work a week and how they would like to communicate and manage the process with you.

Develop a Program Structure

Once you have established partnerships with community organizations, you can begin to develop work-study positions. When developing work-study positions, it is vital to consider the following:

  • What are the skills and interests of the students?
  • What work will best help the students meet their academic and professional goals?
  • What type of work will best help the community partner meet its needs?

Work with your financial aid office to establish the type of work, the number of hours and the compensation students will receive.

You should also structure the opportunity to allow students to learn and grow throughout their time in the position. Build in regular touchpoints for students to submit reflections and attend training that will deepen their experience. 

When you use GivePulse to manage service-learning and community-based work-study programs, you'll have access to a host of tools that enable you to track student engagement, gather student reflections and collect feedback from students and partners via custom surveys.

Advertise Community-Based Opportunities 

Now that your program is ready to launch, it's time to advertise opportunities for community-based work-study programs. Using service-learning management software like GivePulse, you can accept and review student applications and list opportunities with community partners. 

Make sure you're collaborating with your institution's office of financial aid to ensure they can verify students who apply are eligible for a federal work-study award.

Once you have approved a student's application, you or your community partner can use GivePulse to schedule shifts, track attendance and verify student hours. Students may need to submit their hours via a campus-wide system like Workday. Luckily, GivePulse offers integrations with other technology and database platforms to streamline your data management.

Using a Service-Learning Management Platform

Federal work-study programs are a great way to remove barriers to student engagement in the community. They help students fund their studies while developing professional skills and local relationships. 

To support this, GivePulse works with professors, teachers, educators, staff and community engagement centers to manage the logistics of community partnerships and track student engagement in service and service-learning courses.

From a database of community partners to a calendar to schedule and track student volunteers, GivePulse provides an all-in-one solution to streamline higher education community engagement.

Are you developing a community-based work-study program?

Schedule a demo with GivePulse today to learn how we can help you, your students and your community get the most out of your collaboration.


About GivePulse

GivePulse's mission is to enable everyone in the world to participate and engage in lifting their community to new heights. We do so by providing a platform to list, find, organize and measure the impact of service-learning, community engagement, philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and volunteerism.

Founded in 2012 in Austin, Texas, GivePulse works with 650,000+ groups, including colleges and universities, nonprofits, businesses, K-12/school districts and cities and municipalities. Together, we connect millions of people in an effort to create positive social change.

Start making a difference today by visiting