Retention and Collaboration: IUPUI’s Office of Community Work-Study

In 2004, the Office of Community Work-Study was created within IUPUI’s Center for Service and Learning to provide an institutional framework for increasing the number of community service FWS positions. A committee was assembled from campus offices across the university to develop the plan for expansion. Hallmarks of the program include FWS students serving in teams and a focus on using community service FWS to increase student retention.


Elizabeth Laux Coordinator, Office of Community Work Study Center for Service & Learning

“We are an urban university with a goal of excellence in civic engagement. We are citizens of Indianapolis, Indiana, the nation, and the world.” 

-IUPUI Chancellor Charles R. Bantz

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) takes seriously its role in the community. The strong emphasis on professional education (e.g., dentistry, education, engineering, law, medicine, nursing) has supported a long tradition of practice-based learning and community involvement across teaching, research, and service. Since 1993, the Center for Service and Learning (CSL) has been the catalyst for the campus to engage in a broader civic agenda through service-learning courses, volunteer programs, community service work-study, and strategic campus-community partnerships.


Community-based FWS is one important way the campus distinguishes itself as a leader in leveraging resources to mutually benefit the campus and community. In 2004, the Office of Community Work-Study (OCWS) within the Center for Service and Learning was created to provide an important institutional framework for increasing the number of community service FWS positions. An estimated 80% of IUPUI students work off-campus for pay, and 60% of IUPUI students qualify for financial aid, providing a natural pool of candidates for community service FWS positions. IUPUI’s investment in community service FWS positions is significant. Information from the 2004-2005 academic year indicates that community service FWS placements account for:

  • 38% of the Federal Work-Study dollars utilized at IUPUI;
  • 38% of FWS students; and
  • 40% of the hours worked by FWS students.


In March 2005, the university formed a campus task force on Community Work Study (CWS). The group was charged with providing recommendations on programmatic development, coordinating efforts, and managing communication across administrative units regarding the development and expansion of community-based FWS. The success of the CWS Task Force required a strong partnership among members from across IUPUI departments, including administrators from the Student Employment Office, the Center for Service and Learning’s Office of Community Work-Study and Office of Neighborhood Partnerships, the Office of Student Financial Aid Services, and University College. The task force also consulted with several community partners and other campus representatives (e.g., from Human Resources, Internship Council, Payroll, Solutions Center, Student Focus Groups, Student Information & Fiscal Services). The CWS Task Force utilized the Accelerated Improvement Process (AIP). This improvement technique is endorsed by IUPUI’s Planning and Institutional Improvement and Human Resources departments as a way to streamline decision making around new programs, policies, and processes. Work is accomplished by a smaller number of committee members, consolidated within four meetings, and accomplished by completion of “homework” tasks by each committee member. Each meeting is scheduled for three hours, allowing for focus on the issues at hand, assignment of new tasks, and discussion. The CWS Task Force meetings were facilitated by two IUPUI Human Resource professionals who are trained in utilizing AIP. The effective use of this process allowed the group to accomplish significant results quickly. By the completion of the fourth meeting, the CWS Task Force had accomplished the following:

  • Creation of a Transition Implementation Plan and timeline.
  • Development of a “responsibilities” spreadsheet to clarify roles and responsibilities of campus offices and staff members to support CWS programs.
  • Creation of checklists for students and community organizations to guide them in navigating CWS processes at IUPUI.
  • Design of a CWS flow chart that includes campus departments and responsibilities to assist in streamlining the CWS process.
  • Review of campus policies and procedures and drafting of recommendations.

The CWS Task Force will continue to advise the Center for Service and Learning on program design, assessment strategies, and external funding opportunities.


The OCWS utilizes FWS funds to place IUPUI students in 12 community sites (i.e., public schools, community centers) through the America Reads and America Counts Programs as literacy and math tutors for children from preschool through ninth grade. In 2005-2006, 63 America Reads tutors provided nearly 12,500 hours of free tutoring to more than 300 community youth at eleven schools and community partnership sites and 41 America Counts tutors provided more than 6,500 hours of free tutoring to 150 community youth at eight schools and community partnership sites. College tutors work both one-on-one and in small groups with children on activities that help nurture the development of literacy and mathematical skills, as well as children’s academic and self-confidence. In addition to providing college students with educationally meaningful FWS experiences, America Reads and America Counts strive to foster their sense of belonging within the institution and to cultivate a sense of commitment to civic engagement in their community. College tutors work as part of a team of IUPUI students and are required to participate in an orientation, biweekly team meetings at their site, and monthly on-campus trainings. Training topics include but are not limited to understanding different student curricula, learning styles, diversity, working in the community, and professionalism.


To expand opportunities to involve students in the community through FWS employment, the OCWS is piloting a new program called Team Works. In addition to providing students with educationally meaningful FWS experiences, Team Works strives to foster a sense of belonging within the institution and a commitment among students to civic engagement in their community. Team Works also supports the development of skills needed to effectively function as part of a team and creates an environment of learning and reflection that helps students view their work as important and worthwhile. The structure for the Team Works program is modeled after the already successful America Reads and America Counts programs. A team of 3-7 students is placed at a partnering community organization to work on a variety of projects, depending on the needs of the organization and interests of the students. Participation in Team Works is open to all majors and levels, as all students have the potential to benefit from community service and bring different skills to a community organization. The team of students gathers together for biweekly team site meetings and attends monthly professional development trainings and reflection opportunities on campus. By working in teams, students have the opportunity to get to know one another on a more personal level and form relationships that help them feel more a part of the campus community. Creating this sense of belonging within the institution is an important strategy for enhancing commuter student success (Jacoby & Garland, 2004). One student is identified as the Team Leader at each Team Works site. This student serves as the liaison between the community partner and the OCWS; facilitates regular reflection and team building opportunities for site team; facilitates biweekly meetings with site team; assists site supervisors with timely submission of timesheets and other program administrative duties; and attends regular Team Leader meetings offered by the OCWS. Each Team Leader receives a Sam H. Jones Community Service Scholarship ($1,250/semester) for their leadership in the program and additional time and responsibilities (approx. 5 hours/week). The Sam H. Jones Community Service Scholarship program was designed to 1) recognize service as merit in scholarship awards, and 2) be an avenue for recruiting and retaining students with a demonstrated commitment to civic involvement (Hatcher, Bringle, Brown & Fleischhacker, 2004). Community organizations are identified as Team Works Community Partners Adobe Acrobat Document based on current campus-community partnerships, nonprofit status, and ability to provide an educationally meaningful service placement for students. In order to be considered, community organizations must have the capacity to provide students with orientation, daily supervision, and guidance. Examples of appropriate community organizations include youth serving agencies, senior citizen centers, arts organizations, community centers, public schools, neighborhood associations/organizations, recreational programs, environmental organizations, and health-services organizations.


Like many urban commuter campuses, retention of students is a consistent challenge at IUPUI. Research indicates that students’ interactions within the institutional environment — including peer relationships and a sense of belonging — increase student retention (Jacoby & Garland, 2004; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991; Tinto, 1975). However, as the 2006 IUPUI Retention Report suggests, “Too few IUPUI students have time to make those connections (with the faculty of their institution and with other students). Most commute to campus (97%) and are, therefore, less likely to take advantage of all IUPUI offers to enhance their educational experience and many are responsible for financing their own education, which means that they work too many hours — 80% of IUPUI undergraduates work, and an astonishing 43% work 35 or more hours a week!” Significant research has also been conducted regarding work and its influence on college student retention. As reviewed in Pascarella et al. (1998), the findings from these studies have been fairly consistent in indicating that “student retention is positively impacted by on-campus work and negatively impacted by off-campus work. “As indicated by Pascarella, Bohr, Nora, Desler and Zusman (1994), the causal mechanism underlying the conflicting influences of on- and off-campus work on persistence and degree attainment are not completely clear. However, one explanation is that “on-campus work enhances student involvement and integration into the institution, while off-campus work tends to inhibit them” (Pascarella et al., 1998). Therefore, Community Work-Study programs at IUPUI have been intentionally designed to enhance student involvement and integration into the institution. To address the challenges of student retention, CWS programs focus on the needs of IUPUI students to find opportunities to connect with one another and the campus community and to work to finance their education. CWS programs utilize teams of students working in the community to provide students the opportunity to build personal relationships with one another and create a sense of belonging within the institution. Students also have opportunities to connect with campus staff through on-campus orientation, monthly training, and reflection opportunities offered by CWS staff. CWS staff also visit program sites regularly and are available for student support. Informal feedback from students indicates that this approach is working. Each academic year more than half of the America Reads and America Counts tutors either graduate or return to the program. The 2004 retention rate for the America Reads and America Counts Team Leaders was 83%, compared with IUPUI’s 2004 one-year freshman retention rate of 65% and 2004 six-year graduation rate (for the 1998 full-time beginner cohort) of 22.3% (Williams, 2006).


IUPUI recognizes that academic success and retention are the concerns of all campus units (Evenbeck & Hamilton, 2006). As an urban university, IUPUI also recognizes the importance of its role in fostering a commitment to civic engagement among its students. Community service work-study is one of the many initiatives designed to enhance student retention and the campus’s mission of excellence in civic engagement.


Bringle, R. G., Hatcher, J. A., & McIntosh, R. (1999). Student involvement in service and service-learning. Paper presented at the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action, Washington, DC.

Evenbeck, S. & Hamilton, S. (2006). From “my course” to “our program”: Collective responsibility for first-year student success. Peer Review 8(3), 17-19.

Hatcher, J. A., Bringle, R. G., Brown, L. A., & Fleischhacker, D.A. (2006). Supporting student involvement through service-based scholarships. In Zlotkowski, E., Longo, N., & Williams, J. (Eds.). Students as colleagues: Expanding the circle of service-learning leadership, 35-48. Providence, RI: Campus Compact.

Jacoby, B. & Garland, J. (2004-2005). Strategies for enhancing commuter student success. Journal of College Student Retention, 6(1), 61-79.

Pascarella, E., Edison, M., Nora, A., Serra Hagedorn, S., & Terenzini, P. (1998). Does work inhibit cognitive growth development during college? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 20(2), 75-93.

Pascarella, E.T. & Terenzini, P.T. (1991). How college affects students. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Tinto, V. (1997). Dropout from higher education: A theoretical synthesis of recent research. Review of Educational Research, 45(1), 89-125.

Williams, G. (2006). Annual Retention Initiatives Report 2005-2006. IUPUI.

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