The average college student paid between $8,734 and $21,657 for tuition and room and board for the 2010-11 school year, according to the Institute of Education Sciences. Annual costs for public schools averaged $13,297, while private colleges demanded students to pay an average of $31,395. Work-study is one way for students to meet these education costs. Government- and school-work programs pay an hourly income to students to cover school expenses. Programs operate in a variety of ways, but the income earned from work-study typically reduces the amount of financial aid awarded to the student from other income-based aid.

College Cash

Financial aid gives a significant number of students the ability to attend college. The College Board Advocacy and Policy Center reported that full-time undergraduates received an average of $13,218 in financial aid to attend college during the 2011-12 school year. School financial aid officers help students put together applications in the semesters before starting college. Federal officers reassess aid for continuing students and recommend additional funding or reduce awards, depending on the student's needs and changes in personal and family finances. The federal financial award package typically includes a combination of loans and grants, and some students also receive work-study grants as part of the total cash award.

Evaluating Needs

Student needs include costs for tuition and housing, but financial aid reviewers also use the total family income when parents declare children as dependents on federal income taxes. Aid officers also consider family debt and income spent for college expenses for other children in the family. The College Board Advocacy and Policy Center note that 1.4 million students received Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, 524,000 accepted Perkins Loans and 684,000 students received awards for Federal Work-Study. Federal cash for work-study awards in 2011 totaled $862 million.

Working for Dollars

The federal government and colleges award work-study grants to help provide cash for students to pay for tuition, but the work assignments also help departments and university services to fill on-campus employment openings. Upper-level students have intimate knowledge of the campus, and new students quickly learn about the campus while working under work-study grants. Some schools work with community nonprofits to offer work-study jobs. Schools cap the number of hours students can work under the grants based on the amount of the cash award, and programs must keep track and report work hours to federal supervisors.

Award Packages

Federal work-study awards typically arrive in a combination package with various other forms of federal grants and loans, but colleges also give scholarship grants and offer school-sponsored work-study, including lab and teaching assistantships for graduate students. The cash earned under all types of work-study employment is taxed as income and offsets the student's need for grants and loans to pay for school. Financial aid officers typically assign work-study grants to supplement low grant and loan awards. Work-study money gives students the ability to fill the gap between school costs and the amount of other grants and loans received under the award package.