On March 26, President Sean Decatur announced in a news bulletin that, starting in fall 2021, the expectation of work-study in need-based financial aid will be reduced from $2,000 to $1,000. To account for this change in the work-study expectation, students will receive an extra $500 direct grant and a $500 credit for the Kenyon Bookstore — $250 at the start of each semester.
This change in allotted work-study funds is one of the ways the College hopes to improve the work-study program. According to Decatur, other changes, such as providing orientation for students to familiarize them with on-campus opportunities and encouraging supervisors to reserve at least 50% of interview opportunities for work-study students, are also on the way.
This policy is in accordance with Kenyon’s long-held pledge to meet 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need, according to Decatur. The new measure reduces the number of hours student employees are expected to work to receive work-study funds. According to Decatur, an update on the pay tiers will come later this semester, after the Campus Senate investigation prompted reform to the system.
These changes to the work-study program come less than a month after members of the Kenyon Student Workers Organizing Committee (K-SWOC) went on strike in protest of unfair labor practices, and within the week of the announcement of sweeping changes to the CA job position.
The decision is based on the recommendations from a Campus Senate report on student employment conducted last fall. Under Decatur’s request, the Senate devoted several months to a comprehensive examination of the College’s student employment program, in which students raised issues about on-campus job availability and the challenge of securing sufficient work hours, especially for first-year students, among other concerns.
Notably, Decatur commissioned the August employment review after the College became aware student workers were seeking to unionize through a card-check neutrality agreement earlier in the summer.
K-SWOC was not satisfied with the recommendations from the Senate report, arguing that every work-study student should be guaranteed a job and minimum working hours. “Kenyon should look to work-study programs at peer institutions to make this ideal a reality,” states their list of demands to the administration, referring to institutions with work-study programs like Vassar College.
K-SWOC declined to make a formal statement on the latest work-study update, noting that “financial aid is not a permissive subject matter that could be negotiated at the bargaining table.” They added that “it remains true that increases to wages would benefit all student workers and allow individuals on work-study to work fewer hours to meet the allotment.”
According to Director of Financial Aid Craig Slaughter, the pandemic increased pressure on student work by reducing the number of job positions opened since a number of in-person offices are closed. On the other hand, Slaughter suggested that “economic pressure at home” and limited summer opportunities for students seeking employment have exacerbated demand for jobs.
The Career Development Office (CDO) is currently working on a series of plans to provide guidance and video tutorials to students about searching for jobs and preparing their resumes. The CDO will also design additional guidelines for supervisors for “setting and communicating expectations” and “being accessible and instructive mentors” to enhance the general working experience. However, it has stopped short of guaranteeing jobs to all students on work-study.
At the end of the email, Decatur encouraged students who are facing financial hardship to request emergency relief funds via an online form.