Section: News

College says housing changes are fair

While some student workers  have expressed frustrations over changes to housing subsidies, the College made them in the interest of wage equality, according to Todd Burson, vice president for finance.

Last academic year, several Community Advisors (CAs) brought concerns to Student Affairs that CAs on financial aid were having their housing subsidy subtracted from their financial aid package based on U.S. Department of Education requirements.

Administrators from the Student Affairs and Finance divisions of the College conducted a financial review of the housing costs and wages of CAs and student workers whose jobs require living in program houses, and recommended eliminating the room credit and stipend, instead instituting hourly wages for CAs and student workers living in program housing. Before last spring, CAs received a stipend in lieu of an hourly wage and a room credit, which covered their housing costs. CAs and directors of program houses on financial aid were effectively only receiving the stipend.

Dante Pilkington ’16, a student worker and resident at the Kenyon Farm, said the new payment system would make students in his position pay more for housing.

Eli Redfern ’16, also a student worker and resident at the farm, said he thought the new plan may fail to account for the fact that, after taxation, wages of student workers might fall below the amount of their savings from the housing credit.

The College was aware some students might face lower net income.

“Maybe there’s someone that’d be making a couple hundred dollars less or a couple hundred dollars more, but on the average it was a much more fair system,” Burson said.

Equality, according to Burson, was a major factor in making the change and that for workers on need-based financial aid, the previous system was not fair to students whose financial aid was reduced.

The changes were set to go into effect on July 1, 2015, but, according to Burson, some program house residents — including at the Brown Family Environmental Center and the Kenyon Farm — had already signed up to live based on the previous wage model, so the College pushed back the implementation a year for those workers. The new financing model went into effect for CAs this academic year.

Claire HarnEnz ’17, a student manager and resident at the farm, said she was told about the elimination of the stipend by Lisa Schott ’80, who works with student farmers as an advisor for sustainability and community initiatives, last November, and about the wage increase in January.

Schott directed all questions about student worker stipends and salaries to Burson.

Like Pilkington and Redfern, HarnEnz does not believe the new wage-based model is fair, but she still plans to live at the farm next year.

A variety of federal regulations also played into the changes to the wage distribution, Burson said.

The U.S. Department of Labor requires that the amount of the stipend divided by the hours the student workers report equal at least minimum wage. By eliminating stipends and paying a straight hourly wage, Burson said, the College could prove these students were making at least minimum wage, Burson said.

The Internal Revenue Service also tracks hourly wages for purposes of taxation. Burson cited Affordable Care Act requirements that employees working more than 30 hours a week must receive healthcare as a reason the College needed to track workers’ hours.

Including CAs and program house residents the changes will affect around 60 students in total, according to Burson.

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