Lehigh will continue to pay work study students, despite the March 12 decision to switch to remote learning for the remainder of the spring semester.
The Financial Aid Office came to this decision after the release of federal guidelines, discussing how to proceed with work study payments. The guidelines noted universities are able to pay students although they are unable to report to work, said Jennifer Mertz, the director of Financial Aid.
Mertz said the university considered the options outlined by the government and discussed them with its network of financial aid directors.
“We thought it was important to continue to pay students as if they were working because we know they rely on these funds,” Mertz said.
The university is proceeding with its original payroll schedule for the remainder of the semester. Students will continue to get paid on a bi-weekly basis.
Work study payment is a paperless process at Lehigh, so the switch to remote campus activity did not impact the payment process.
Mertz said that there was some consideration of paying students their lump sums all at once based on their typical weekly hours. However, there were logistical issues with this option, as there was uncertainty if students would be considered full-time employees or if they would have to be paid time-and-a-half.
“We also thought (continuing with the original payroll schedule) would be the easiest to help students budget because they are receiving it every other week,” Mertz said.
The Financial Aid Office is anticipating that work study spending will be consistent to students’ earnings previous to campus closure. A student who earned only 25 percent of their allocation during the fall semester will not be expected to meet their full allocation in the spring.
However, students will be unable to pick up additional shifts to meet their allocation, said Will Pemberton, ‘20, a desk attendant manager at Taylor Gym.
Taylor Gym employs approximately 120 students and will be paying them on fixed payment schedules for the remainder of the semester, Pemberton said.
Pemberton said he wishes that students could be paid the rest of their award.
“Given the circumstances, I think providing college students with (their full work study allocations) would make sense,” Pemberton said. “Just like the government is providing people with stimulus packages to get them through these tough times.”
Michelle Hu, ‘23, is also a desk attendant at Taylor Gym. Hu said she was surprised that she would continue to get paid despite her inability to work.
“I think it’s fair we aren’t receiving our full award,” Hu said. “I am just relieved that I’m earning more of my work study.”
So far, Hu has received one paycheck since the university went remote.
A common misperception of federal work study is that it is all federal dollars, Mertz said. Universities are required to match the federal award by 25 percent. Lehigh, in particular, receives about $500,000 and provides work study earnings of $1.5 million.
“Technically, Lehigh could have said, ‘We have matched our earnings that the government gave us, and we are done,’” Mertz said. “But that really wasn’t the right thing to do for students who rely on the funds.”