This should be a comparatively short article, but I will be sure to be thorough in my discussion of this topic.
You aren’t being paid enough. Period. I have stridden through the DC, with love and hope in my heart, absolutely marveling at the energy of student workers. Some are walking back and forth washing dishes, others are meeting with friends just before they get to work. Mailroom workers are sorting mail and sending emails at break-neck paces during the bookpocalypse that is the first few weeks of the school year. The library and residence halls are full of students who are clinging to their decisions to work for less than a living wage. Some are bound by the institution’s on-campus policies and meal plan, and you could argue don’t necessarily need a surplus of funds. I’d like to take a moment to dismantle that thought.
Thanks to an executive order that was signed into law by President Obama, each and every person is at liberty to discuss the measly $7.25 an hour that I, and a majority of the student workers on campus, get paid. (Yes, I said a majority because there are exceptions to every rule.) While I can’t just give out different internal documents that the institution has for particular student positions, I can tell you that some student workers sign contracts, others collaborate with their supervisor for constantly shifting hours, and still, others work on and off campus. Furthermore, the amount of control the institution has over where you work and how much you work varies from job to job.** You live in the state of Illinois and yet you make federal minimum wage for 20 hours of work (maximum) a week. This, of course, is nowhere near a living wage for any human being, and members of Congress have noticed, vying for the increase to a $15 federal minimum wage.
Whether or not you agree with the decision, we can’t disagree with the fact that the minimum wage currently in effect can barely pay a phone bill at times. As a student, this $7.25 an hour is the reason why looking for jobs off campus results in so much hassle. The institution has the ability to work around your college schedule, to provide work, and to provide an okay supplemental income. That is not the common response that a student gets working a job off campus. On the contrary, the job market is low, with most local stores being open for only a short period of time after the 9am-4pm class block at Greenville University. Mix that with the need for different night classes and internships, and suddenly you’re at an impasse.
Likewise, certain graduate staff are also feeling the pressure of being underpaid for the amount of work that they do. While some graduate staff get positive living arrangements and others are stuck with subpar stipends or hourly pay rates. Using an archive site, I discovered previous job listings that paled in comparison to other schools for Graduate Assistants, with stipends experiencing a nominal increase. (The most lucrative of these assistantships, though seemingly high in its overall income, is still not quite the same as the assistantships offered at other universities.)*
Students, however, tend to be at the losing end of these discussions. As Greenville increase the percentage of tuition to cover increasing costs, students often complain of no change in the institution overall. For students like me, a portion of my income stands the potential of going directly back to the school. Combine that with car costs, class expectations, and other unforeseeable bills, and you have a visible problem – the majority of students, in a two week pay period, can make a maximum of $290, before taxes. (Note, for many that may cover a phone bill and a car payment.)
The vast majority of students could be making $8.25 an hour working anywhere else in the area as a starter. But the institution provides the best living situation, the best scheduling opportunity, and the most opportunities for just a dollar less in pay. In classes, we discuss the problem of the pay gap in America, speak constantly about living paycheck-to-paycheck, and understand that having a decent amount of money is critical to living a happier life. Furthermore, students, faculty, and staff know the amount that they’re being paid, and the difficulty that undergraduates and graduates have paying for the necessities. The fact that the institution underpays, by a dollar, the students that are so often noted as having no money, little money, high bills, or problems gaining money is a problematic reality. Can the institution fix that? I don’t know.
Federal work study information provides us with some idea as to what we could be paid, as well as what we should be paid. On the federal student aid website, there is a definite requirement for students on federal work-study to be paid at a minimum the federal minimum wage. However, “depending on the type of work you do and the skills required for the position” you may be paid more. Granted, there is an hourly cap, and other requirements based on work-study funding, but there is no requirement for payment below the state minimum wage. Jobs at places such as ISU, SLU, Blackburn, and various others offer the state minimum wage for the jobs that they place on campus. Some jobs go above that amount, and some are right on the mark, but I have rarely found institutions shooting for the federal minimum wage.
What I do know is that you, Greenville University reader, are not being paid enough, at every level. And while we are not the worst at paying our students, we still need to be paid more. You need to be paid more.
*I’ve been made aware of an issue in the two comparative graduate assistantships. Accounting for shifts in location, cost of living in each area, and basic expenses, there has been nominal change, making these two graduate assistantships more than comparable.
**I’d love to discuss some of these issues, and I believed the contracts or outlines for jobs would give some information that would be invaluable. However, when I reached out to a specific department for supporting documents, the request was denied. Those documents that I know of, by virtue of my position, are confidential. Therefore, they will not be overviewed or discussed at length in this particular article.
***Editor’s Note: Other public institutions publicize the salaries of their workers (specifically at state schools such as Southern Illinois University.)