The Problem with Student Wages

Haverford and Bryn Mawr students speak out about campus jobs

By Amana Abdurrezak

There are two types of students at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges: those who do work, and those must also go to work.

For the former, work requires setting aside time outside of lectures and lab sessions to finish papers and problem sets. But for almost 1,500 Bryn Mawr and Haverford students, work is more than classwork—it’s also attached to the on-campus job they have.

On both campuses, students spend an average of six-to-eight hours per week managing front desks, helping fellow students with class assignments, ensuring smooth operation of the dining halls, and attracting prospective students to the Bi-College community. The list of student jobs is a long one.

Based on their home campus, the type of job they have and their experience level, students are paid between $9 and $11.15 an hour. What do they think of their jobs and their wages?

To find out, our News and Feature Writing class interviewed over 85 students on both campuses to understand the nature of student jobs in the Bi-Co and find out if students believe they are paid fairly for the work they do. Here are our findings:

  • Since many jobs on-campus allow students to only work up to a certain number of hours, it’s very common for students to sidestep that restriction by having multiple jobs.
  • Students who use their earnings for smaller purchases like food, clothing or setting aside money for savings accounts are generally satisfied with their pay. However, many recognized that they are satisfied because they don’t have to worry about bigger costs like tuition. The students who use their earnings to pay for tuition, room and board, bills, or even sending money to family back home, wish their wages were higher. Their money is not used for extras but for the basics.
  • Opinions on pay depended on how demanding the student’s job was. Those who work low-pressure jobs were satisfied with their wage. Those who felt their jobs were more laborious or required more expertise were also generally satisfied with their pay, but felt that they should be paid more.
  • The fact that both campuses’ baseline pay is higher than Pennsylvania’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour factored into many students’ opinions. This trend remained consistent with out-of-state students who compared their wages on-campus to their home states.

We also noticed that Haverford’s baseline pay of $9 an hour is a dollar lower than Bryn Mawr’s baseline of $10 an hour, despite having most of the same jobs across both campuses.

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Bills, Bills, Bills

For many in the Bi-Co, juggling multiple jobs on top of classes is the norm, but many can justify adding a job or two to their schedule if it means they can enjoy nights out in Philadelphia with friends or a new pair of boots when the weather gets chillier.

However, some students have to use their earnings to pay for larger expenses.

Princess Jefferson, a Bryn Mawr College junior, juggles supervisory positions at two dining service establishments. At Haffner Dining Hall and Wyndham Alumnae House, she delegates duties to workers, oversees the desert bar, and drives Wyndham’s catering van. When she isn’t in class or working in dining services, she’s at the Civic Engagement Office prepping ACT/SAT test-prep curricula or driving a Bryn Mawr van for student programs. At all of her jobs, she makes $10.95 an hour, working a total of 36 hours a week.

“For all of my jobs except one, I think I get a fair wage,” said Jefferson. She puts all of her earnings towards tuition, food, her phone, and transportation.

“If I take into account the management at Wyndham & how my back feels after work, then I think we should get paid at least $12 an hour,” she said.

Jefferson isn’t alone in using her money to pay for financial expenses and wanting better compensation. Sara Jones, another Bryn Mawr junior, makes $10 an hour as a kindergarten teaching assistant and a student activities orientation assistant.

As a kindergarten TA, she helps out in the classroom through helping manage group activities and student work. As a student activities orientation assistant, her responsibilities vary. Some days she organizes student events, other days she hosts dorm hangouts. But her role always requires that she supervise “customs people”—members of Bryn Mawr’s residential life who help students in the dorms.

Jones works seven to eleven hours a week and uses her money to either pay for food or send money back to her family to help pay for household expenses.

She thoroughly enjoys her kindergarten job and feels like she’s fairly compensated but does feel underpaid at her job at student activities given the amount of work she puts into planning and preparation.

Like Jefferson and Jones, some students work on-campus to meet their financial aid package obligations, but some have a hard time juggling classwork with financial responsibilities.

At Haverford, freshman Alissa Vandenbark serves food and cleans tables for Haverford’s dining services. Her second job as an AUDIO-VISUAL assistant requires that she set up projectors and recorders for on-campus events. She works anywhere between five and ten hours a week, earning $9 an hour at each job.

“All of the money I make goes to tuition. The low wage makes it necessary to work a lot of hours to make enough money,” she said.

Considering both schools’ cost of tuition is on the rise and pay rates have remained stagnant or similar in recent years, some student workers feel that they’re being unfairly compensated for the demanding work that they do — given the fact that they are students first.

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Pay Me What You Owe Me

Many Bi-Co student workers recognize pay inequity exists between more and less demanding positions such as the dining hall versus front desk work. But the other pay inequity present on both campuses is the one between jobs that require more qualifications and/or more training.

At Bryn Mawr, sophomore Janina Calle works two jobs, one that requires more qualifications than the other but pays the same hourly rate of $10 an hour.

As a Career Peer, Calle helps students create resumes and cover letters, as well as navigate internship and funding searches. Her second job consists of working as a backup driver for the Bryn Mawr Graduate School of Social Work, where she is responsible for picking up and dropping off graduate students to and from the Rosemont train station near Bryn Mawr.

Calle can go a few weeks without being called in to her driving job because it operates on an “as-needed” basis. But her work as a Career Peer is significantly more involved, requiring extensive career knowledge and six hours of work a week.

“I think career peers should be paid at least $12 an hour because we don’t just meet with students and address their career-related concerns,” said Calle, “We have projects we work on throughout the year…and do work outside of the office by hosting hall hangouts.”

At Haverford, students have a similar attitude, agreeing that jobs that require more technical knowledge should be compensated better. This is especially true with teaching assistants, especially in STEM fields.

Rebecca Seeley, a senior at Haverford, earns $9 an hour working as an organic chemistry laboratory teaching assistant (TA). She assists students during lab hours, hosts office hours for students needing help, and grades lab reports. Depending on whether or not lab reports are due, Seeley works up to eight hours a week.

“I get that $9 an hour sounds acceptable given that Pennsylvania has the lowest federally legal minimum wage at $7.25 an hour…but I think it should be higher,” said Seeley, “TA-ing requires special expertise and interpersonal skills. It’s similar to tutoring, and private tutors get paid upwards of $25 an hour,” she said.

Sadie Kenyon-Dean feels the same as a physics 101 TA making $9.25 an hour.

“Sometimes it’s very hard to grade assignments because students don’t have a high level of comprehension,” said Kenyon-Dean, “I think I should make at least $10 an hour.”

For students whose jobs are more involved and require specialized knowledge, many believe they should be paid more. This is especially true for Haverford TAs, who are paid less than Bryn Mawr TAs.

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The Price of (Working in) Admissions

Bi-Co students are no stranger to fitting work around demanding schedules to help pay for necessities like groceries. In the case of some student workers at Haverford’s admissions office, this goal is difficult when they’re not being properly compensated for every hour they work.

Claudia Ojeda, a Haverford sophomore, earns $9.25 an hour for the ten to twelve hours she works as an Access Diversity Initiative intern in Haverford’s admissions office. She doesn’t have regular hours, instead working three times a year to help plan “fly-in” weekends for prospective students of underrepresented backgrounds.

The problem is that the office doesn’t pay for all of the work that she does.

“Every time there is a fly-in weekend, I get paid to work the events I sign up to attend ahead of time,” said Ojeda, “But I often have to attend many more hours of events that I don’t get paid for.”

This issue extends to other student positions in Haverford’s admissions office. Students in admissions work as both tour guides and hosts, showing prospective families around campus and answering questions in the office. But the admissions office doesn’t pay its tour guides or hosts for the first hour they work.

And if a Haverford tour guide shows up to their tour slot and a prospective student or family isn’t there to take a tour, they aren’t paid either, a frustrating reality for those who need the money and responsibly show up to work.

Bryn Mawr admissions pays for all hours that workers are present, but senior Nadia Delisfort thinks her $10.40 an hour wage doesn’t compensate her for how emotionally draining working in admissions can be. She’s in her third year in the office and works 16 hours a week.

“If you’re doing Admissions for more than one or two years, you should definitely get paid more,” said Delisfort, “I think $10 an hour is low.”

But she also believes that senior tour guides should be compensated better because of the number of extra responsibilities they have.

“It’s not like I’m doing the same thing as a first-year tour guide who’s only exclusively giving tours,” said Delisfort, “They rely on me a lot more to talk at promotional events, be on panels, and do interviews. And the number of interviews that I do a week is actually ridiculous,” she said.

Though the pay scales on both campuses recognize that more experienced students should be paid more, the differences are slight: students in their third year at the same job only make 40 cents an hour more at Bryn Mawr and 50 cents more an hour at Haverford.

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A Change is (Probably Not) Gonna Come

Some student workers believe that their expenses, the qualifications they need for their positions, and the emotional labor required for many jobs in the Bi-Co warrant better pay. But a pay revolution may not be coming anytime soon: the majority of students we spoke to were satisfied with their wages.

Sadie Kasten, a Bryn Mawr first-year, works eleven hours a week prepping salad at Erdman Dining Hall and tutoring three students at Ardmore Community Tutoring. She makes $10 an hour at both jobs and spends her money on her siblings, buying clothes, and using Uber.

In comparison to her hometown of Champaign, Illinois, she thinks that Bryn Mawr’s hourly wage is fair.

“It’s higher that what I’m used to at home,” said Kasten, referring to Illinois’ $8 an hour minimum wage.

Many students who believe their job’s pay rate is fair point out that even though they are personally satisfied, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t want more for their fellow students.

Julia Frederick, a junior at Bryn Mawr, works three jobs. She does tech support as a help desk student technician and helps students with STEM classes as a peer tutor. At both jobs, she makes $10 an hour while earning $10.75 an hour as a biology TA. The money she makes tends to go towards buying food or a train ticket to Philadelphia.

Frederick emphasizes that student workers sacrifice a lot of their time for their jobs. If students were paid more, it would make the hours they put in more meaningful.

“Work study can hold back student workers because they have less time to engage in other activities. They have less time to study, socialize, and relax since they have to work to pay off their tuitions,” said Frederick.

Haverford senior Ethan Emmert earns $9 an hour as a TA and echoes the same sentiment. Though he works five hours a week and depends on his job for resume experience rather than financial stability, he doesn’t think the wages are sufficient for all students.

“If I had been depending on the job for even a part of my finances, I probably would’ve been disappointed with the wage –time is so valuable in college,” said Emmert.

Ultimately, students agree that pay should be higher for on-campus jobs, but what are the odds that the students will lead the revolution for better pay in the Bi-Co?

For now, unlikely.

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