03.15.18

Kilmer, Bonamici Expand Opportunities for Students to Gain Valuable Work Experience

Today, Congressman Derek Kilmer and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, a leader on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, introduced legislation to modernize the Federal Work Study Program. Their proposal, the Opportunities for Success Act, will make higher education more affordable for many students and create opportunities for more students to gain valuable work experience before graduation.

The rising cost of higher education means fewer students, particularly from low-income families, can gain the education and skills they need to succeed. Income inequality persists as students who can afford to take on unpaid internships gain valuable work experience that helps them secure good jobs after graduation. Low-income students are often left to work multiple jobs to afford college, and after graduation many end up in low wage jobs that are not connected to their field of study. The lawmakers introduced their legislation to modernize the Federal Work Study program so it will better serve the students who need it most. The legislation reforms the Federal Work Study program to improve access to financial aid and meaningful work opportunities for low-income students. You can read a summary of the legislation here.

“I worked my way through community college with help from the Federal Work Study program, which opened doors and created opportunities for me,” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “I want students in Oregon and around the country to have the same chance to succeed and to reach for a better future. There are many steps we can take to make college more affordable and accessible, including updating the Federal Work Study program. Our proposal modernizes Work Study to help low-income students afford college and gain valuable work experience that will lead to good jobs after graduation.”

“Education is the door to economic opportunity, and for a lot of families — including mine — financial aid is the key to that door. Financial aid helps more people in more places get an education, which means more jobs and bigger paychecks,” said Congressman Derek Kilmer. “With this bill, Americans of all ages and in every community will have more access to the opportunity to learn new skills, and local businesses will have more access to the workers they need to compete.” 

The Opportunities for Success Act is supported by Young Invincibles, Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM), National Skills Coalition, Student Veterans of America, National Education Association, Generation Progress, Higher Ed Not Debt, and Jobs for the Future.

“Federal Work Study is a win-win for students, providing job opportunities that allow students to help pay for college and gain valuable skills. This is especially true for low-income students, who often can’t afford not to work, sometimes at the cost of their ability to take an unpaid internship in their chosen career field. Work study resources are currently being allocated through a flawed formula that does not prioritize the lowest-income students. Young Invincibles welcomes this reform proposal from Reps. Bonamici and Kilmer, which addresses these issues and increases funds to institutions serving a higher number of Pell recipients,” said Reid Setzer, Young Invincibles’ Government Affairs Director. “The bill creates incentives for schools to engage with local, off-campus employers, providing valuable work experience for students while better targeting resources to students most in-need. We look forward to incorporating this vision of reform into the future reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.”

The Opportunities for Success Act:

  • Invests in Low-Income Students. Increases funding for Federal Work Study (FWS) to $2.5 billion over five years.
  • Reforms the Work-Study Formula. Revises the distribution formula to allocate FWS funds based on student need and Pell Grant aid.
  • Targets Work-Study to Low-Income Students. Rewards institutions that enroll and graduate high numbers of Pell Grant students.
  • Promotes Career Readiness. Provides additional funding for Job Location and Development programs and requires institutions to prioritize placing students in work-based learning positions.
  • Improves Access to Career-Related Work Experience. Allows students to earn FWS wages during periods of non-enrollment and requires institutions to use FWS funds for work-based learning opportunities.
  • Creates Pathways from Education to Work. Creates a $30 million dollar work-based pilot program to help connect low-income students to high-quality internships.
  • Enhances Student Success. Directs the Department of Education to survey FWS and report to Congress to inform further program improvements.