Texas College Work-Study Program Makes Moderate Progress during 2017 Legislative Session

Established in 1989, the Texas College Work-Study Program (TCWS) pairs financially needy college students with part-time jobs. The state covers the cost of either 50 or 75 percent of the salaries for these work-study jobs, depending on whether the employer is a for-profit or non-profit organization. As a result of the TCWS, students gain professional experience while employers acquire part-time employees at a reduced cost.
Encouraging academic institutions to collaborate with businesses to provide career relevant work-study placements is a stated priority of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). Yet as Chandra Villanueva found in the CPPP report Beyond the Campus, not one institution of higher education reported in 2014 that it had an off-campus work-study position or a Private-Sector Work-Study Partnership in place. Everyone was working on-campus.
Legislation passed in 2015 requires most institutions to place at least 20 percent (but no more than 50 percent) of TCWS students in off-campus career relevant placements by the 2017-2018 academic year. In November 2016, the THECB, also at the direction of the legislature, issued a report on off-campus work-study opportunities, including best practices in off-campus work-study and barriers to such opportunities. The report offered three recommendations:

  • Create a work-study internship pilot
  • Expand the work-study student mentorship program
  • Repeal the off-campus work-study employment requirement

During the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers proposed three different initiatives regarding TCWS, all with the intention of improving the program.

The first, SB 2082 by Sen. Larry Taylor (and House companion HB 796 by Rep. Clardy), expanded the work-study student mentorship program, which employs college students to mentor, counsel, or otherwise support high school students in order to promote greater access to higher education. This bill passed through both chambers and both Higher Education Committees with relative ease, and Governor Abbott signed the bill into law on May 26. SB 2082 is effective immediately.
The second work-study initiative was SB 1119 by Sen. Zaffirini (and House companion HB 2421 by Rep. Howard). SB 1119 requires the THECB to submit and post its report on TCWS annually rather than every two years. According to the bill, the annual report must be sent to the governor, lieutenant governor, and the speaker of the house and must provide more demographic information on student participants, including race, major and degree program, and whether or not the student is enrolled in a full course load. SB 1119 also breezed through both chambers and Higher Education Committees, and was signed into law by the Governor on June 15. The bill is effective immediately.
The third bill regarding work-study faced more obstacles than the other two initiatives. Sen. West filed SB 1467, whose House companion was HB 3179 by Rep. Lozano. The bill established the Texas Working Off-Campus: Reinforcing Knowledge and Skills (Texas WORKS) internship program to promote off-campus, part-time jobs to eligible students in need of financial assistance. SB 1467 modelled Texas WORKS after the Coordinating Board’s first recommendation from its November 2016 report.
After the second reading, the Senate adopted an amendment that limited participation in the internship program to students who are eligible for federal financial aid. This would have effectively excluded Texas Dream Act students, and in particular visa holders and students protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) who are considered Texas residents for higher education purposes.
Once the bill came to the House, a House committee substitute was adopted that returned the bill to its original language. However, the Senate never voted on the House’s changes to the bill, and the clock ran out on SB 1467 and the Texas WORKS program.
The 85th Legislature made improvements to the Texas College Work-Study Program via two initiatives based largely on the Coordinating Board’s recommendations. While these were both strong steps forward in improving the program, more work is needed to ensure that a growing number of Texas students gain access to off-campus internships. The Coordinating Board should conduct a second study during the 2018 interim to assess how campuses are implementing the requirement to move between 20 and 50 percent of TCWS positions off-campus and to update and identify new promising practices in off-campus work study.

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