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Cost of Living

Cost of Living

When the Board of Trustees voted in February to remove housing discounts for certain student employees in the next academic year, some students who work and live at Kenyon-owned residences began to worry they might find themselves in tougher financial circumstances.

Though these student employees will be able to bill the College for 20 hours of work per week — rather than 15 — their housing costs will jump to the standard room fees, affecting student managers with program housing at such venues as the Kenyon Farm, the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC), Unity House, Snowden Multicultural Center and the Crozier Center for Women.

Dante Pilkington ’16, who lives and works at the farm, said, for a student working minimum wage, the extra pay would not make up for increased housing fees. Without the housing credit, a farm double will cost $1,420 more next year and a single will cost $2,230 more, according to a March 23 email from Lisa Schott ’80, who works with student farmers as an advisor for sustainability and community initiatives. Claire HarnEnz ’17, who works on the farm, and has been in contact with Schott about the change, provided the email. “Farmers will have an opportunity to work an additional 5 hours/week next year. 5 hours x 32 weeks at $8.10/hour is a maximum of $1,300 in additional wages,” Schott wrote.

Schott did not immediately respond to a voicemail Wednesday.

“Room credits are no longer being given to students in program houses since it does not meet requirements with the IRS,” Beth Pae, coordinator of housing and office operations for the Office of Housing and Residential Life (ResLife) wrote in a March 11 email to HarnEnz.

“I don’t want my job to be off-limits to anybody,” Pilkington, also a contributing sports writer for the Collegian, said. “If they’re qualified, they should be able to work there.”

President Sean Decatur said he understood the board’s decision as bringing Kenyon into line with U.S. Department of Labor policies regarding how college and university employees are to be remunerated for their work.

“It’s aimed at making sure that people are being compensated in the right categories and in the right ways,” Decatur said. “If people are doing work that the federal rules define as hourly work, then that compensation has to match that same structure.”

Decatur said it would be reasonable for the College to evaluate whether the compensation for student workers should match the net loss from the elimination of housing discounts, and that the College should examine the tension between its payroll needs and federal regulations.         

“I do find that some of the Department of Labor categories are just not good matches for the types of work that happen at colleges, and especially the type of work that students do,” Decatur said.

Pilkington said some student farmers need the money to help pay tuition, and have expressed hesitance to him about working at the farm next year due to this change.

Nathan Durham ’17, co-manager of Unity House, also said the new compensation policy would pose challenges.

“I wasn’t happy that I had to pay the full extra cost of my room up front because that basically bankrupted me. … [The accounting office] told me they weren’t allowed to give a flat stipend to us anymore,” Durham wrote in a text message to the Collegian.   

Several College administrators involved in student housing were unaware of the details of the board’s decision.

Jill Engel-Hellman, director of Housing and Residential Life (ResLife) and assistant dean of students, Lisa Train, associate director for ResLife and Jessica Maloney, an assistant director of ResLife, all said they did not know enough to comment on the matter or referred inquiries to other administrators.

“Without knowing the specifics, I can confidently say that whatever decisions are being made, it’s an effort to be fair and consistent to students in general,” Meredith Harper Bonham ’92, vice president for student affairs, said.

Erin Keleske ’18, one of the cco-managers of the BFEC, said the policy might inhibit students from working at the center in the future.

“It discourages people from applying for a job that’s really valuable to the Kenyon community and to the students who become managers,” Keleske wrote in a Facebook message to the Collegian.

“I feel bad for the new managers,” Keleske said. “Although being the BFEC manager is a great job and living there is a lot of fun, it’s like punishing working students for performing a service for the school.”

Henri Gendreau and Alex Pijanowski contributed reporting

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