The history of work study goes back at least to the middle ages, as it is an extension of the older apprenticeship system that helped to provide an education in a trade for many young people in the distant past. The modern system of work study goes back to 1964 when it was included as a part of the Economic Opportunity Act passed by congress as a part of President Johnson's "Great Society" program.
Economic Opportunity Act
The work study section of the Economic Opportunity Act specified that work study positions would be provided especially to aid those of a lower-income bracket in their pursuit of a higher education. The bill required that the work be related in some way to the education that the student was pursuing as well as that the work study work not be used to displace any work that was already being performed by paid workers.
Higher Education Act
Only a year after the Economic Opportunity Act was passed, congress extended and modified the federal work study program by transferring it from the Department of Labor to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. This revision further emphasized the fact that work study was to be provided chiefly for those of a lower-income bracket that were pursuing an education. The bill stated explicitly that preference should be provided for those of lower income.
Higher Education Act Revision
Congress came back to again revise the work study program in 1972. As a part of this revision, a much greater emphasis was placed on community service. Schools were now instructed to attempt to find needed services in their community that they might be able to provide by using work study labor. The Commissioner of Higher Education was empowered to enter into agreements with public and non-public institutions to employ students at needed community services.
Higher Education Amendments
In 1992 the congress passed further amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965. These amendments required that colleges spend at least 5 percent of their work service funds on community service programs that would benefit the greater society. The definition of community service was expanded in the amendments to emphasize services that would benefit those members of the community who were in a lower-income bracket as well as those who dealt with disability.