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Carolina Works fills the gap left by federal budget cuts to keep students employed

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In the void of funding left by federal budget cuts, UNC kickstarted Carolina Works, a program designed to expand work-study positions for students supported through grants and donations.

The program, available to undergraduates who don't make the financial cutoff for federal work-study, is part of Campaign for Carolina, a fundraising effort the University launched last year aiming to collect $4.25 billion in donations by the end of 2022. 

“We have a lot of students who are aid-eligible, but don’t necessarily qualify for federal work study, which is usually reserved for our lowest-income students,” said Eric Johnson, a spokesperson for the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid. “So growing Carolina Works will help us extend work opportunity to a broader category of students on financial aid.” 

Jobs will be available across campus and through community partners, with a focus on positions tailored to academic and career interests, according to a flyer from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and Office of Scholarships and Student Aid. 

Because the program is in its beginning stages, many students who qualify aren’t aware of the Carolina Works initiative — or that they must fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid to be considered.  

"Part of the goal for Carolina Works is to expand work opportunities for students who fall a little above the cutoff, so they’re still eligible for aid but not for traditional work-study funding," Johnson said. 

According to U.S. News, 42 percent of full-time undergraduates at UNC receive some kind of need-based financial aid. Many aid packages offer a work-study position to supplement college expenses.

Sophomore Parker Jenkins is on his second year as a work-study recipient, employed as a lighting assistant with PlayMakers Repertory Company. As a Covenant Scholar he automatically receives a work-study position through his scholarship. However, Jenkins says that it is more than just a perk from his financial package. 

“I wanted to work in a field related to something I enjoyed while also learning a new skill,” Jenkins said. “I’m an actor and wanted to learn more about technical theater, and lighting seemed like a great way to gain that experience.” 

Although work-study is popular among students, throughout the years, federal support for work-study has been declining as budgets grow tighter. 

Johnson said the University has been working with the newly implemented Campaign for Carolina to grow Carolina Works with donation funds, hoping to retain positions that would otherwise get cut as part of federal work study. 

For the past decade, the federal contribution to work-study funding has decreased, leaving UNC to spend roughly $1 million of its own funds to keep the positions available to students, according to the Carolina Works flyer.

“For a long time, we’ve had more students who want to participate in work study than we’re able to fund,” Johnson said. “Making student employment a centerpiece of the Campaign for Carolina is a way to address that need.”

Carolina Works allows donors to gift either an expendable amount that supports five jobs over four years, or give an endowment that supports one to five jobs over the span of five years. 

According to Johnson, there’s been a surge in students who qualify and need financial stability to support their education but don’t necessarily meet the requirements for federal work-study aid.

Sophomore Christopher Cataldo, who has a work-study job in the BeAM Makerspace in Carmichael Residence Hall, said that he applied for his position before even being granted a work-study position through financial aid. 

Cataldo had heard about Carolina Works but his knowledge of the program was minimal.

“I applied because I used the Makerspace a lot last year, and I was always on the lookout for job openings,” Cataldo said. “I probably wouldn’t have done work study if I hadn’t gotten the job I wanted.” 

University employees hope the new program will take some weight off students' shoulders financially. 

“Carolina Works is a fundraising effort, something for administrators and development officers to worry about,” Johnson said. “Students shouldn’t have to worry about where the funding comes from — they’re focused on doing the work and earning college money.” 

@holmesej

university@dailytarheel.com

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