Students express dissatisfaction with student worker pay rates, administration considers updating student wage scale

Man holding box
Journalism and Communication Professor Stephen Ruf picks up mail from the Purchasing Department. Ruf said he started picking up mail daily because of inconsistent mail delivery over the fall semester due to worker shortages. Monday, November 8, 2021. (Photo courtesy of: Stephen Ruf)

Written by: Amanda Blake, Megan Yoshioka, Judah Brass

In response to a previous Accent article about a student worker shortage on campus, several students expressed dissatisfaction with Southern Adventist University’s student worker pay rates. Financial Administration and Human Resources (HR) are aware of student complaints and have been discussing raising wages, according to Associate Vice President for Financial Administration Doug Frood. 

Junior social work major Isabella Eklund said she decided to leave her on-campus job to work for an off-campus position that pays more.  

“We have loans to pay, tuition to pay, car payments, groceries and other living expenses that $7.25 to $8 is unable to provide,” Eklund said in an interview with the Accent. “We are expected to make those payments but have few campus jobs that provide work that may help us provide for ourselves. Some of us are struggling with debts that cannot be relieved through the current student workers’ conditions.”

In an email to the Accent, Vice President for Financial Administration Tom Verrill stated that his office’s research has found anecdotal indicators that off-campus jobs’ higher pay rates may be primary contributors to the student labor shortage on campus. Frood added that administration understands students’ desire to work for higher-paying jobs.

“We [have] 50, 60, 100 open jobs, and obviously we know why,” Frood said. “Amazon’s paying $15 minimum. Walmart’s closing in on $15; I think they’re at $13. … Even though half the students who tell you this aren’t working for any of those entities, they know what’s happening. I hear from people, ‘Nine bucks an hour is not enough for me to work here,’ and they’re still not working anywhere. But, yes, I get it. You’re aware of the fact that nine is way low of 13.”

However, Benefits and Compensation Manager Amy Steele stated that employment opportunities on campus offer advantages that often outweigh higher pay, calling the process a “two-way street with mutual benefits for all parties.”

Sophomore computer science major Brandon Gustrowsky, who works in landscaping and as a teacher’s assistant (TA) for a computer science class, shared a similar sentiment, stating that his TA job prepares him for his career and his landscaping job offers psychological benefits. 

“Even though I only get paid $7.50, this [TA] job helps me internalize what I’m learning. This job is in my field, so it is very beneficial,” Gustrowsky said. “… Even though I only get paid $8.25 an hour, this [landscaping] job is very therapeutic. It gets me outside, and I am getting exercise.”

Gustrowsky also added that on-campus jobs are convenient and create a “wonderful, Christian environment to work in.”

Sophomore history and political science major Samuel Mora said he appreciates his jobs in the Periodicals Department at McKee Library and in the weight room at Talge Hall.

“My work experience at Southern has been a blessing because my work supervisor is really understanding and easy to work with,” Mora said.

However, Mora added that he and other international students are in a disadvantageous work situation. As an international student, he is not legally allowed to work off campus. Mora said this limits international students to jobs supplied by the institution.

“The jobs on campus pay really little, so I work a lot and I get paid little, while I could be working jobs outside of campus and get paid more,” Mora said in an interview with the Accent. “I only get paid around $7.32. … Legally, I can only work 20 hours a week. So, I take full advantage of that and work to that maximum.”

Senior computer science major Ethan Wu commented on a post on the Accent’s Instagram account. He said he used to work as a math tutor at the Tutoring Center for three years and that he was paid $8 per hour. 

“After being tired of being underpaid for the work I was doing, I decided to find another job off campus so that I could afford to pay for the bare essentials like food and clothing,” Wu commented. “Immediately after I left my position at the Tutoring Center, they sent out an email offering a $1.50 an hour raise to any math tutors that were to be hired.” 

In an interview with the Accent, Sonja Fordham, director of both the Writing Center and the Tutoring Center, said the timing of the raise was a coincidence. Fordham said she petitioned for a student worker pay raise to HR over the summer. She said HR responded and told her the department already voted that the Tutoring Center can pay student workers $1.50 above Southern’s base pay. Immediately after receiving HR’s email, Fordham said she sent an email to her student workers informing them of the raise.

Fordham said she was not aware of the student’s concern because no one had approached her about it previously.

“I’m sorry that a tutor felt underpaid and that the tutor left,” Fordham said. “I think that the pay rate here at Southern for students should be increased. And I appreciate HR being willing to work with me to allow me to pay the tutors more money than base pay rate. … [The Tutoring Center is] somewhat limited by the budget that we are given for student worker pay. But I try to max out the budget, use all of it if I can to pay my student workers, because I believe they’re doing a good service.”

Fordham said she would encourage her student workers to approach her if they are experiencing dissatisfaction with the pay rates.

“I would much rather the student come to me and tell me that they are struggling than have the student decide not to work for the Tutoring Center anymore,” Fordham said.

Steele said HR is currently working to update the student wage scale, although nothing has been approved by administration to date.

“A pay increase consideration is necessary so that we can evaluate how we compare to market and scale that to our financial abilities,” Steele wrote in an email to the Accent. 

Steele also stated that different types of pay structures are being considered. Frood said one of these considerations is assigning pay rates based on the nature, necessity and difficulty of jobs instead of class standings.

Frood said that in order to raise student wages, Southern might also have to raise tuition. However, he explained that next year’s tuition has already been set, and wages would increase at a greater rate than tuition. So, students would still be put in a better financial position. 

“Raising pay, which is an important thing to do, will have implications for tuition, but hopefully with a balance that makes your work dollars go as far as we can make them go,” Frood said.

Verrill added that a rise in the cost of labor on campus and the nation as a whole might have an effect on tuition rates, but nothing has been decided. 

When asked when student wages will be raised, Frood, Steele and Verrill all said that is to be determined because the change is still being studied and needs to go through administrative and budgetary committees.

Frood said labor shortages and low wages are issues with which the entire nation is currently struggling.

“That’s what everybody’s dealing with, whether you’re in higher ed, health care — it doesn’t matter,” Frood said. “Everybody’s trying to figure out how to do it because nobody knows how temporary this inflation rise is.”

Frood added that students with financial needs could receive significant student aid from the government next year based on its current proposed budget. In addition, students will receive a third round of grants provided by the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund in January. 

Share this story!

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

Leave a Reply