Creative Solutions: Summer Work-Study and Professional Placements at the University of Montana

Approximately 1,000 students at the University of Montana work as work-study employees annually, and about one quarter of those work in community service positions. The program is managed by the university’s Financial Aid Office. A full-time Summer Work-Study Program is popular among graduate and law students, and allows students from areas outside of Missoula to set up service opportunities in their home towns.

The University of Montana

Connie Bowman
Assistant Director, Enrollment Services/Financial Aid

A Commitment to Service

The Community Service Program at The University of Montana typically uses between 22% and 28% of its Federal Work-Study (FWS) allocation in service to the community of Missoula, Montana. Each academic year approximately 1,000 students work as work-study employees, and about one quarter of those students work in community service positions. A full-time Summer Work-Study Program is offered by the university and, depending on academic year allocation usage, is often a key component of the Community Service program, particularly among graduate and law students.

The FWS program is managed by the university’s Financial Aid Office. Long before the federal government mandated a community service component in the FWS program, the Financial Aid Office worked to strengthen the ties between the community at large and the university through student employment. Work-study has been viewed as a means to increase the contributions university students make to the area, as well as a means of funding their education. The current community service program is a natural extension of The University of Montana’s history of commitment to Missoula community.

Program Structure

An Office of Civic Engagement promotes AmeriCorps and volunteer efforts on campus. While maintaining separate operations, the Office of Civic Engagement and the Financial Aid Office collaborate to maximize student rewards for community service efforts whenever possible, and students who are awarded FWS are urged to visit the Office of Civic Engagement to see if their work opportunity can be combined with the AmeriCorps program.

Missoula is fortunate to have a thriving nonprofit community that the FWS program serves. Approximately 150 public agencies and private nonprofit organizations comprise the employers included in the Off-Campus Work-Study and Community Service programs. The relationship between the university’s work-study program and the non-profit community is over 20 years old and has always been carefully cultivated for the employment opportunities it presents to our students.

Every effort is made to make joining and participating in the program as effortless as possible for off campus agencies. The Financial Aid Office often assists community agencies and campus departments such as Payroll and Human Resources in order to smooth the interaction between the organization and the university. University policies are explained to off campus agencies by the Financial Aid Office, which also provides help in filling out paperwork needed for Financial Aid and the payroll process. Workshops for all work-study employers are offered at least once a year, and Financial Aid personnel visit off campus work sites as often as possible to discuss the benefits and workings of the program.

Types of agencies and job opportunities are carefully monitored so that a broad spectrum of service jobs are available for different student majors. The number of agencies admitted and/or active in the program is limited so that the student worker to employer ratio remains in balance, ensuring employers a good possibility of finding a work-study student for their organization.

Program Promotion and Support

The University of Montana maintains an electronic bulletin board where all jobs — work-study, community service, and non- work-study jobs — are posted. When enough funds are available, the Financial Aid Office runs a campaign before winter break reminding students that they can use the break to set up a work-study job in their home towns for the summer by visiting nonprofit agencies while they are home for Christmas. This has proved effective for increasing nonprofits’ participation in Montana, including those outside of the Missoula area. The University of Montana promotes a service ethic, and students are enthusiastic contributors to their community.

At skill-building classes coordinated by the Financial Aid Office, students are encouraged to use the community service job experience to build their skills and resumes. This is also emphasized in written materials that accompany each work-study award. The Financial Aid Office helps employers maintain their trained work-study students from year to year, as this is important for the continuity of the program. Students are reminded early each year to submit their FAFSA as soon as possible, since one of the criteria for obtaining a work-study job is the date of the FAFSA application.

Transportation to job sites is one of the major obstacles for students in choosing off-campus sites for work. The University of Montana offers all students free bus passes, which aid students with their transportation issues. This is just one way that the university supports community service FWS programs.

By combining assistance to students and employers, The University of Montana maintains a successful community service program. The program is a high priority, not only in the Financial Aid Office but campuswide. It enjoys the support of the administration, which has been a key element in its success.

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