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Despite slight pay increase, students dissatisfied with wages

Despite slight pay increase, students dissatisfied with wages

Starting Jan. 1, student employees can expect a 3 percent raise, which translates to about 25 to 32 cents per hour  depending on pay grade.    

Each year, the College updates its student wages in accordance with yearly changes in the Ohio’s minimum wage. This policy follows a Constitutional Amendment (II-34a) passed by Ohio voters in November 2006, which updated the minimum wage to match the yearly rate of inflation.

“This coming January, the rate increase happens to be a 3 percent increase over what we’re currently paying,” Student Employee Coordinator Heidi Norris said. “So it wasn’t like there was any discussion or motivation behind the increase; we were simply continuing with the plan that was put in place years ago.”    

Students have expressed frustration over the student payment system, which they say indicates a dissonance between the values the College espouses and the reality of day-to-day life on the job.

“I would bet that if you asked each member of the administration individually what they think the minimum wage for the nation should be that they would say $15 an hour,” said Graham Ball ’21, who works for Helpline, “and yet I’m being paid less than $10 [an hour].”

Helen Cunningham ’21, also a Helpline worker, said that while she’s happy for the opportunity to work on campus, it often feels like there’s a disconnect between what students get paid and the amount of work they put in.

Helpline workers, for instance, go through a whole semester of training before they take on the full responsibilities of the job. “We’re pretty highly trained to have this job [at Helpline],” Cunningham said. “The campus would fall apart without us.”    

The College divides its student employees into three levels, depending on the extent and difficulty of the work done. Level 1 positions, like office assistants, make the equivalent of the Ohio minimum wage, currently $8.30. Level 2 positions, such as Helpline workers and teaching assistants for intro labs, make slightly more at $9.47. Finally, Level 3 positions, namely Community Advisors, make the most at $10.98.   

Ball said he thinks the three-tier system represents “a gross oversimplification” of the range of work done by student employees. He said it’s “ridiculous” that Kenyon has decided to pay its students less than $10 an hour, considering how much of the College’s work-force they make up. “Just because the minimum wage is low doesn’t mean that our college should prescribe to that standard,” Ball said.

According to the Kenyon website, “pay grades for student positions were determined jointly by the Student Employment Task Force (now disbanded) and the corresponding departments.”

However, Benji Adekunle-Raji ’17, who was on the Task Force, said that the working group did not “decide student wages.” Instead, he said that the “ad hoc committee” was responsible for analyzing the student employment structure’s equity, and making recommendations for improvement. The group, he said, did not have any real power.

Cunningham also criticized the lack of say students have in determining how much they get paid. “I think that the wage should have student input,” she said. “If there is a panel again, students should be on it, especially students who are on work-study.”

According to Vice President for Finance Todd Burson, Kenyon spends effectively one percent of its operating budget on student wages, which translates to around $1.5 million . “I do not see this criteria changing soon,” Burson said. “Based on the information at hand, it is my understanding that senior staff believes that the current structure is fair.”

Cunningham also commented on the lack of diversity in job opportunities for student workers.

“They’re not paying us enough for the campus employment to be competitive with non-campus employment jobs,” she said. “It’s just because people don’t have other options that they work here at all.”   

While Cunningham admitted that students have fewer qualifications than the professional staff, she argued that their compensation should better correspond with the work they do. “I’m not saying we should get paid the same amount, but we should get paid something that’s reflective of the work we actually do,” she said.

Ball summarized his frustration at the situation: “I think it’s stupid that we get paid so little,” he said, “so I’m not gonna be thanking the college for my three percent raise.”

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