September 17, 2004

Businesses voluntarily stop using FWS dollars

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. - - While Southern Illinois University Carbondale administrators are confident federal regulations were met, three private businesses operating in the SIUC Student Center are voluntarily ending their use of Federal Work Study funds to help pay student employees, retroactive to the beginning of the school year.

Chartwells Education Dining Services, which handles catering responsibilities; Follett Higher Education Group, which runs the University Bookstore; and McDonald's, are contracted business partners of the University. Concerns expressed by some faculty, staff and students about the use of Federal Work Study funds to pay their employees prompted the firms to end their participation in the program.

"While we're satisfied the University was not in violation of any federal regulations, we are always sensitive to even an appearance of impropriety," said university spokesperson Sue Davis. "We felt it was important to address the questions raised about the use of the funds, and we appreciate the quick response of our corporate partners."

Federal Work Study is another form of financial aid that helps students pay for their education. The program pays for 75 percent of a student's wages. The current campus minimum wage is $6.05 per hour; it goes to $6.50 per hour next year.

SIUC has one of the largest commitments to the program of any university in the state. The University's Federal Work Study allocation this fiscal year is $2.2 million.

Larry H. Dietz, SIUC's vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management, asked Financial Aid Director Daniel R. Mann to review the use of Federal Work Study funds last week.

"We concluded that this usage was allowable within federal guidelines," Mann said, "but it may not be the appropriate priority for utilizing limited FWS funds."

However, the three firms volunteered to end their participation in the program to remove any thought they were depriving other University departments of funds. The businesses and the Student Center pledged that the individual students affected by this change will remain in their jobs.

"Chartwells, McDonald's and Follett all view student employment as an opportunity for students to earn money needed to pay college expenses and to enhance their work experience for employment after graduation," Dietz said. "All these organizations have hired SIUC graduates and regret any confusion about their intentions regarding this program."

For this fiscal year, $13,260 in Federal Work Study money was available to help pay the wages of student employees at the University Bookstore. Another $21,150 was available for Chartwells and McDonald's. The money will fund other student work positions in the Student Center.

No other private firm operating on campus through contractual arrangements uses Federal Work Study funds.