The Higher Education Act (HEA) states that one of the purposes of the FWS program is “to encourage students receiving Federal student financial assistance to participate in community service activities that will benefit the Nation and engender in the students a sense of social responsibility and commitment to the community.” The HEA requires that all higher education institutions participating in the FWS program allocate at least seven percent of their annual FWS funding to student jobs that provide community service. Schools that can demonstrate that meeting this requirement would create hardship to its students may obtain a waiver from the Secretary of Education.
Institutions are encouraged to provide a wide range of community placements for FWS students. Generally, Federal Work-Study funds are matched by community agencies 3-1 (75% federal - 25% match). Many institutions contribute a part or the entire required match for community service jobs. Currently, the Higher Education Act includes only a few clarifying provisions or exceptions in Federal Work-Study Community Service programs:
- FWS community service employment may include internships.
- Campus jobs providing childcare or services to students with disabilities qualify under the community-service requirement.
- Colleges receiving FWS funds are required to support at least one project that compensates work-study students employed as tutors for pre-school and elementary school children or who work in a family literacy project as part of the community-service requirement.
- Federal Work-Study funds can be used to compensate students for time spent traveling or in training directly related to the community-service position.
- Administrators should provide "a reasonable share" of awards to part-time and independent students.
- The federal share of work-study award is capped at 75%, with several exceptions. The limit can be waived completely for tutoring programs that teach reading and mathematics to preschool and elementary school children, such as America Reads and America Counts. The federal share can also rise to 90 percent for students working in service jobs at needy nonprofit agencies. However, no more than 10% of a college's work-study participants can be employed in positions for which the federal share exceeds 75%.