Financial Aid Professionals at the Center: Colorado College’s FWS Progam
As an undergraduate institution, Colorado College is proud to claim that at least 80% of its students are engaged in some form of community service, including many through Federal Work-Study. The community service FWS program is coordinated fully by the Financial Aid Office as an integral part of the Student Employment program. Additional highlights of the program include that the college pays 100% of the employer match for the program, and FWS students may also earn an AmeriCorps Education Award.
Debra Yazulla Sharpe Senior Financial Aid Coordinator
As an undergraduate institution, Colorado College is proud to claim that at least 80% of its students are engaged in some form of community service during their years here. An important factor in these impressive numbers is the college’s dedication to the federal community service FWS program. The college consistently spends 15-20% of its Federal Work-Study (FWS) allocation on students working at community organizations. In contrast to many colleges, Colorado College’s contract with partner sites establishes the college itself as the students’ employer. The college pays 100% of the students’ wages, with no match from the community organization. This incentive has fostered a very positive response from the partner sites and the greater community.
The Community Service Work-study program is coordinated fully by the Financial Aid Office as an integral part of the Student Employment program. The requirement that a student demonstrate FWS eligibility and the monitoring of potential additional eligibility (as well as the loss of it), makes the Financial Aid Office a natural fit to oversee this program.
Advertising the Positions
Community service partner organizations are treated very similarly to our on-campus employers. Every fall the college hosts a Job Fair for FWS-eligible students and encourage community service organizations to participate. This event is the best way to attract students with eligibility who are looking for a great work experience. The Financial Aid Office also maintains a website with all current job openings; community service FWS positions are posted there as well. It is one of the office’s highest priorities to make sure that students are aware of the opportunity to earn their work-study dollars and make a difference in the community at the same time.
The college has established numerous partnerships throughout the years with nonprofit organizations in Colorado Springs. Current partner sites include local schools; direct service agencies for homeless and low-income families; a transitional housing facility; advocates for children in court; an agency dedicated to advocacy and education about domestic and sexual violence; a nonprofit whose mission supports peace, justice, and nonviolence in the community; and The March of Dimes, to name a few. Some partnerships are long-standing, while others may only last a year or two. I serve as Coordinator of this program, and part of my job is to be aware of the evolving needs of the students and community organizations — evaluating sites and jobs to ensure that they are challenging and developmentally appropriate, and that they address specific human needs in the community. These partnerships are created in numerous ways — through college outreach to the organization, inquiries from the nonprofits themselves, referrals from the Center for Service & Learning and the Career Center, or through student initiative.
Community Site Visits
During the academic year and often throughout the summer, I remain in frequent contact with the site supervisors, including making on-site visits to partner organizations. These visits serve multiple purposes: first hand knowledge of the environment in which our students are working; discussion to integrate the goals of the partner site with those of our students and program; communication of policies and expectations; completion of necessary paperwork; and strengthening the relationship between the college and the community.
SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS
As the Senior Financial Aid Coordinator, I also serve as the students’ liaison between the community and the college, their on-campus supervisor, and their counselor if they need to talk. While the partner organizations are responsible for appropriate training and are encouraged to provide opportunities for reflection, we also make it clear to students that if they ever need advice, intervention, or simply a place to discuss their experience (good or bad), our door is open to them. This year students will receive both pre- and post-service reflection tools. It is my hope that these tools will create the framework for meaningful discussions of what they are learning, how they are contributing to the community, and how this experience has changed their perspective. I am also the AmeriCorps Coordinator on campus, and as such I am able to communicate with students about the unique opportunity to earn FWS dollars while working towards an AmeriCorps Education Award. Every year, we re-evaluate our program for its strengths and shortcomings and attempt to improve it. This spring I met individually with students to get feedback about their experience with the program. Those in-depth discussions allowed me to create the pre-and post-service reflection tools that will be handed out to all students. Many students mentioned that going into their placement they didn’t know what to expect and therefore did not have clear goals or objectives. Almost all reported having an amazing and valuable experience, but wished there had been a little more direction. It is my hope that the new reflection tools will assist students in identifying goals and give them insight into how their experiences have influenced their lives. Overall, I believe we have established strong partnerships that benefit the community and provide students with meaningful work experiences that will help them grow both personally and professionally.