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Are Work-Study Programs the Perfect Part-Time Job?

Nowadays, it is harder to find college students who do not have a part-time job than those who do. With the beginning of the fall semester, many students struggle to find part-time jobs that are compatible with school lectures. Through this article, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) would like to introduce what a work-study program, a part-time job that is only available to college students, exactly is and present the controversies as well as solutions to the issues discussed.

Typical Life of a Student in a Work-Study Program

What Exactly Is a Work Study-Program?

A “work-study program” refers to a scholarship policy in which a student selected for the program works for a certain time at school and receives payment in the form of a scholarship. The policy can be divided into two types: the national work-study program and the on-campus work-study program. While recruitment for the former is managed by the Korea Student Aid Foundation (KOSAF), the recruitment and selection for the latter are managed by the school itself. Also, while students who participate in the national work-study program can work either off-campus or on-campus depending on the place of work students applied to, those who are involved in on-campus work-study programs only work on-campus. The task of students in work-study programs varies depending on the department, and working hours are flexible, as students are only required to complete a certain number of hours within a week. For example, a student who will be referred to as Kim, participated in a work-study program at Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU), overseeing the renting of DVDs and equipment in the Central Library, as well as guiding and introducing certain departments to faculty members and students. As students in work-study programs are not exactly “workers”, but rather “scholarship students”, the four major insurances and employment contracts cannot be applied, and students are paid without tax deductions.

How to Apply for a Work-Study Program

The qualifications for students who apply for national and on-campus work-study programs differ as well. National work-study programs have two main criteria for recruiting students: a student’s income decile and the grade point average (GPA). If students take a gap semester, graduate, or drop out of school during the semester, they are no longer able to participate in the program. For instance, according to the SKKU selection criteria from last semester, while undergraduates who have a minimum GPA of 3.0 are eligible to apply, those with lower income deciles and higher GPAs are selected first, and those in the two highest income deciles are unable to apply. On the contrary, on-campus work-study programs recruit students through the school website. Recently, SKKU posted a notice for students who may want to participate in a work-study program at the Office of International Student Services in August. As on-campus work-study programs are managed by the school, all qualifications are determined by the school.

Recruitment Example of Work-Study Program

A Deeper Look into On-Campus Work-Study Programs

There are two different types of work-study programs, but the highly accessible one is the on-campus type. As many students have been suffering from long commutes to school for only one or two offline lectures due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), many students have begun to consider participating in on-campus work-study programs.

Advantages of On-Campus Work-Study Programs

1. Saving Time and Transportation Costs

As on-campus work-study programs require students to work in the school, being able to save time and transportation costs is highly appealing to students. Instead of struggling with long commutes for a part-time job, on-campus work-study programs allow students to complete both academic and work-related responsibilities while on campus. Students taking a gap semester can also apply, so those who live near the school can also consider applying. Many students feel that it is an advantage to be able to select working hours every semester and have a flexible working schedule.

2. High Personal Satisfaction

Although working on-campus may feel repetitive as students typically supervise small tasks, work-study programs are much easier than other part-time jobs such as convenience store managers and restaurant employees. For example, Kim expressed that the work environment was less stressful, as the people she interacts with are mostly students or faculty members. Moreover, students who work in the department office mentioned having quick access to department-related news as an advantage. Working in the department office as a freshman or sophomore helps students not only get job information from upperclassmen who work there but also helps them to gain insight into how the department office functions.

The Uncomfortable Truth About On-Campus Work-Study Programs

1. Ambiguous Selection Process

Unlike national work-study programs with clear selection criteria, on-campus work-study programs often spark controversies over the ambiguous selection process. Many students have claimed that notices for a work-study position are listed even though there was already a candidate lined up for the position in the department. This inflates the number of positions available and wastes time for many eligible students applying for an unavailable position. For example, according to an article released by the Andong National University Newspaper in 2019, there was an incident where only one student applied to a work-study program that was selecting a single individual, but failed to get selected. The student claimed, “When I called the recruiter, I was told that there was already someone to take that position.” As such, although job postings are put up, many have claimed that there are cases in which none of the students who applied are selected despite being eligible.

2. Unfair Working Conditions

As mentioned earlier, students who participate in work-study programs are “scholarship students”, so they are not eligible for the four major insurances, and do not sign employment contracts. However, this causes issues such as the inability to contest unfair dismissal. According to Korean labor laws, such dismissals are not considered “unfair” as no employment contract was signed in the first place. Moreover, cases where students had been given unreasonable tasks also sparked controversy. For instance, according to the Seoul National University Journal, a professor asked another faculty member to prepare his external presentation material, and that faculty member then made a student complete it even though it was his own work. Despite the allegations, as on-campus work-study programs are managed and recruited by the school, there is no way to officially impose regulations on such cases, unlike national work-study programs.

A Better Work-Study Program for Students

Setting Specific Selection Criteria

As the salary provided to students in work-study programs is not a payment for labor, but rather a scholarship, the selection process and criteria must be disclosed transparently. For instance, disclosing the accurate range, or at least an approximation, instead of presenting the number of students needed as 0 person(s), and notifying unsuccessful applicants could quell the current controversies. Additionally, recruitment criteria should be clearly defined beforehand and written in the job listing. There were no clear requirements in the aforementioned job listing for the work-study program in the Office of International Student Services at SKKU; it only requested for the applicant to be an undergraduate. “Friendly”, or “diligent and responsible” is not clear enough criteria, and many have expressed that there should be a more explicit standard of criteria for on-campus work-study programs as well.

Improving Working Environments for Students

Students involved in work-study programs are considered scholarship students, but they are also workers like any other. However, the KOSAF replied to such controversies by saying that although there are reasons to recognize these students as workers, “the students selected are mostly from low-income families”, and “the program is aimed at creating stable academic conditions for low-income students”, which prevents such students from being seen as “workers”. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the campus community to improve the working environments for such students, as they are not legally considered employees.

Working at a Library (unsplash.com)

Work-study programs may seem like the perfect part-time job, especially for those who have just graduated from high school, with benefits such as saving time and gaining information. However, with the start of each semester, they continue to be surrounded by controversies. To resolve these problems, it is important to pay constant attention to the topic, and the SKT hopes that this article will serve as an opportunity for Kingos to learn more about work-study programs.

김재희  serenwogml@g.skku.edu

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