Loanless and out of luck

TRU’s work-study program is looking for workers, but there’s a catch

Leah Caldow is on her second university stint. Returning to school after five years in the workforce, the third-year journalism student was hoping for a work-study job with TRU’s Alumni Association, but she quickly hit a wall.

“It was exactly up my alley,” she said of the position. “Doing marketing events, helping out with the social media and stuff like that, and I really wanted to do it but I found out that I had to get a student loan.”

As a mature student with investments who rents a basement suite from her parents, Caldow found she was not eligible for a loan and therefore not eligible for the work-study program.

Students must have a loan to access over 100 work-study jobs available on campus. (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

Students must have a loan to access over 100 work-study jobs available on campus. (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

“I work currently, so I wasn’t going after it for financial reasons,” she said. “I was going after it for an experience side. It was just more frustrating that I couldn’t gain the experience that I wanted because the biggest thing that we get ingrained in our head that you are going to get hired based on the experience you gain in university and I want to do everything in my power to be well rounded in that way.”

TRU’s work-study program provides over 100 part-time jobs to students on campus. Based on financial need determined by their loan assessment, TRU Student Awards and Financial Support determines how much each student may work, to a limit of eight hours a week.

“Basically they just need an assessed need of about $2,400 a year to max out on the number of hours, and [for] most students, that’s not hard for them to do,” student finance advisor Lisa Smilie said.

Applicants must also be full-time students and maintain a 2.00 GPA.

Kate Lochhead has worked a work-study job since September in the fine arts department, a position that mirrors her own field of study. She said she hopes to go to grad school for printmaking and thought the position could double as work experience and supplement her student loans.

“It’s less [time required] than any other job I’ve ever had and it doesn’t necessarily pay the best money, but it’s really helped me so far with maintaining my grades because I work at the school, therefore I am always at the school doing homework, et cetera,” she said.

‘We’d love to be able to open it up…’

Originally funded by the government, TRU took over work-study after the government program was cancelled. According to Smilie, all applicant requirements were also adopted by TRU, including the need for a student loan. The requirement was also cemented by the collective agreement between TRU and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which allowed the work-study program to run beside union jobs.

According to Smilie, since TRU took over the program it has expanded from largely case-by-case placement to something much larger and more structured.

“The last few years have been awesome – good experience with CUPE and TRU working together to increase the number of positions for students and to offer them to more departments,” Smilie said.

Despite citing the program’s growth, Smilie also said the financial aid office recognizes that the loan requirement is unpopular and that she would like to see the policy change. She said she commonly sees students express interest in a position, only to learn that they are not eligible. Some work-study positions never get filled.

“As long as we can assess their need … and make sure that it’s a program that’s open to the neediest of students … we’d love to be able to open it up to other students,” she said.

Faculty echoed Smilie’s sentiment. “There’s lots of students who want to do it but simply aren’t allowed,” geography chair Darryl Carlyle-Moses said.

The geography department employs two work-study students each year. According to Carlyle-Moses, 50 to 75 per cent of those students come from the geography department, with the remainder drawn from related disciplines such as biology or natural science.

“We have benefited from it as a department and I’m confident that the students have also benefitted from the experience. I think it’s a win-win situation,” he said.

He added, however, that the department has not always been able to fill their work-study positions and he would like to see students with financial aid getting priority, with the position available to other students if no other candidate is found.

According to Student Awards and Financial Support manager Gordon Down, changing program requirements has been on the table for several years, but the issue has never moved past discussions between CUPE and TRU.

“This last round it was at the top of TRU’s list of things they wanted to change, but then they agreed with CUPE to just roll the [collective] agreement over without any changes,” Down said. “So both parties had things they wanted to change and none of those were implemented.”

CUPE’s collective agreement expired last March. Down said he does not know when bargaining will begin again.