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Work-study students earn, learn

Last year, approximately 2,500 Duke students received financial aid packages, many of which included a work-study option-offering students an opportunity to "earn and learn" through various jobs funded by both the government and the University.

"Work-study is an extraordinary opportunity for young people," said Jim Belvin, director of financial aid. "They have the chance to earn while learning, work in areas that might contribute to academic work and career opportunities and test out and learn different skills."

For each hour a federal work-study student works, it costs Duke an average of $3, with the federal government subsidizing the remainder of the wage.

Compared to North Carolina's current minimum hourly wage of $5.15, many have noted that the expense to the University seems to be a bargain.

When it comes to Duke work-study jobs, however, the cost is not as low.

Fifty percent of student earnings come from institutional funds, while the other half comes from students' respective employers, Belvin said.

Though federal work-study programs, such as America Reads and America Counts, are nonprofit in nature and aim to promote community service, Duke work-study positions are more varied.

Jobs range from sewing together costumes in the Theater Operations Costume Shop to calling alumni as Duke Annual Fund representatives.

Officials said disparities in work-study opportunities and their costs to the University, however, have had no bearing on employer standards, and federal work-study employers are no less adherent to the honor-based attendance system than Duke work-study employers.

"If any employer is paying a student for unworked hours, that is a serious violation of federal rules and regulations," Belvin said.

He emphasized that although he cannot guarantee all University employers are following regulations, he is not aware of any employer who is violating them.

Many work-study students say the honor system is an adequate means of enforcing proper work behavior.

"We have to fill out our own time cards, which is good because then we really earn our pay," said sophomore Amelia Fernandez, an America Reads tutor.

Federal work-study employers emphasized that the nonprofit nature of programs such as America Reads and America Counts leads to a greater sense of responsibility on the part of student employees.

"The federal work-study program opens up participation in community service for students who must work," Elaine Madison, director of the Community Service Center, wrote in an e-mail. "The support from the federal work-study program over many years has helped Duke create an infrastructure for sustaining student engagement and community placements."

America Reads is the only work-study program in which student earnings are 100 percent subsidized by the federal government, Madison said. She added that this allows the program to hire an unlimited number of students.

Madison said she sees no noticeable difference between paid workers and volunteers "in terms of positive attitude, enthusiasm and interest in teaching children."

CSC Staff Assistant Pat Nobles said, however, that most of the time the paid tutors are usually more dedicated.

America Reads and America Counts are not the only job opportunities available to students who qualify for federal work-study.

Local nonprofit groups can also employ Duke students receiving federal aid. CSC and the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid work with these organizations to offer students more paid positions.

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