When club soccer practices began to interfere with Edgar Martin’s ’17 shifts at Helpline, he quickly found himself choosing work over extracurriculars. “That paycheck is still the only reason I can come here,” he said.
In addition to being enrolled as a full-time student, Martin typically works 28 hours a week. The money he earns from working throughout the semester helps fund his education, together with the need-based financial aid he receives. Martin spends 10 hours a week as a Helpline consultant, and the other 18 hours in his role as a Community Advisor (CA). Both positions pay $9.24 an hour. Having been financially independent from his parents since the age of 18, Martin’s earnings go toward more than just his education. Those 28 hours a week cover daily necessities, from laundry detergent to his phone bill. They’re “the little things that you need just to be an average human being,” Martin said.
Martin’s situation does not reflect that of an average Kenyon student. According to Dean of Admissions Diane Anci, 45 percent of students in the Class of 2019 pay Kenyon’s sticker price of $61,110. In addition, she said, about half the student body does not even file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), meaning around 50 percent of the class of 2019 waived their chance to receive any need-based financial aid.
President Sean Decatur recognizes the financial divide within Kenyon’s student population and believes attending Kenyon while under financial strain adds a new dimension to the college experience. “Someone who is concerned about whether or not everything is going to come together to pay the bill for the semester is having a fundamentally different experience at Kenyon than someone who never gives that a thought,” Decatur said. This is especially true for Martin, who must find small pockets of time to fit in friends and meals. “I’ve started making social time into Google Calendar appointments,” Martin said.
According to Student Employment Coordinator Heidi Norris, 42 percent of Kenyon students are employed on campus, and 18 percent hold two or more jobs. Student employees’ wages fall into one of three categories: Tier 1 pays $8.10 an hour, Ohio’s minimum wage. Tier 2 pays $9.24 an hour, and Tier 3 pays $10.41 an hour. Many campus jobs have student manager positions, usually placing those students in the Tier 3 pay bracket. However, beyond those one or two positions, students are often not rewarded for their loyalty or the quality of their work. This is particularly frustrating for Martin, who is working his third year as a Helpline Consultant and is paid the same hourly wage as a new hire going through training would be paid. His concerns, however, are about more than just the money. “I want [Kenyon] to respect the work that I do,” Martin said.
Conrad Jacober ’15 also found it difficult to strike a balance between schoolwork, his on-campus jobs and socializing with friends. Jacober worked as a student manager of the Writing Center and as a Senior Helpline Consultant, averaging 14 hours a week during the fall of his senior semester. Having been unable to find time to participate in more time-consuming activities, such as having dinner in Mount Vernon, Jacober said, “Turn down your friends’ offers to eat off-campus often enough, and eventually your friends who go to restaurants just stop inviting you.”
During his freshman year, Jacober’s expected family contribution (EFC) on his FAFSA form was lower than it was by the time he graduated. But, according to Jacober, during his first year, “Kenyon rolled out the red carpet for me during financial aid.”
One portion of Jacober’s financial aid package was a $1,500 award for Federal Work-Study (FWS), a government-funded employment program designed to subsidize education for lower-income students. Unlike a loan or a grant, students receiving FWS must work for this sum. Should a student choose to work somewhere on campus, the College will set aside $2,000 maximum per student per academic year to be contributed to the student’s financial aid package. With FWS, any earnings under the regulated $2,000 that are acquired from this on-campus employment are not required to be filed on the student’s FAFSA for the following year. As Jacober earned more money than the $1,500 from his work study, it was factored into his FAFSA form.
“Someone who is concerned about whether or not everything is going to come together to pay the bill for the semester is having a fundamentally different experience at Kenyon than someone who never gives that a thought.”
According to Craig Daugherty, director of financial aid, the $2,000 limit reflects the wages a student would accumulate if he or she were to work six hours a week for the duration of the academic year, six being the average number of hours employed Kenyon students work per week. FWS, however, does not extend into the months between the fall and spring semesters. Therefore, during the summer after his freshman year, when Jacober earned $4,000 working as a Helpline Consultant, his EFC rose significantly, because his earnings were not exempt under the guidelines of FWS and were thus counted as taxable wages.
While his situation was stressful, Jacober understands there was little the College’s financial aid office could do to improve it. “[Office of Financial Aid employees] literally do as much as they can for you, within their limits,” Jacober said.
Daugherty recognizes the financial aid system disadvantages some. “The system is kind of a one-size-fits-all, and it works well for most people, but not everyone,” Daugherty said.
Nina Whittaker ’16 has been working for Greenslade Special Collection and Archives since she was a first-year student; she now works as a student manager, averaging 12 hours per week at Tier 3 wages of $10.41 an hour. Like Martin, Whittaker believes the College should more publicly recognize the contributions of students who spend hours each week performing the smaller tasks that help Kenyon function.
“It would be nice to see work at Kenyon being embraced as leadership,” Whittaker said. Whittaker believes the College could show respect for student workers by highlighting them in the Student Leadership Awards Ceremony, held each spring to honor students who excel in extracurricular activities. She believes the work students do as College employees is just as important to Kenyon life as the work students do in extracurriculars. “If a student works 1,000 hours for the college, that’s great, that’s a big milestone, but you know, that doesn’t get talked about at all,” Whittaker said.
Decatur said there is no reason student employee leaders are not recognized in the same capacity as extracurricular leaders.“I think it’s because no one’s really thought about it, and now that I think about it, it’s actually something we really should do,” Decatur said. “I think Kenyon has a lot of work to do on this issue.”
“You have to pick your life … are you going to be a student and a worker, or are you going to be a student and a leader, an extracurricular person, and not so much of a worker?”
Benjamin Adekunle-Raji ’17 also found himself having to choose between extracurriculars and work. In the end, a paycheck took precedence over Gospel Choir. “You have to pick your life,” he said. “Are you going to be a student and a worker, or are you going to be a student and a leader, an extracurricular person, and not so much of a worker?” Every student faces this dilemma, Adekunle-Raji said, but some students don’t have the luxury to choose the life that most appeals to them.
For Adekunle-Raji, however, the issue of financial aid extends beyond the Hill, to Denmark, where he will be studying abroad next semester. Adekunle-Raji’s financial aid package will transfer to next semester such that his bill will remain at $2,200 despite his being abroad. He realizes, however, that financial aid will not cover passport renewal fees, airline tickets or his residence permit.
To earn money, Adekunle-Raji works seven to 12 hours per week as an intern for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) and as an Admissions Office hosting coordinator. He is currently searching for a third job.
Adekunle-Raji believes the College needs to facilitate a better balance between student employment and academics so lower-income students like himself may choose which roles roles they wish to inhabit. He also understands there is no easy solution, though. “I think the administration recognizes our struggle more than the students recognize it,” he said.
Decatur believes students’ lack of knowledge on the subject likely stems from the lack of economic diversity at Kenyon. “You need a critical mass of diversity on campus to have a conversation about diversity,” he said.
Martin has seen the effects of this lack of diversity and says fellow students sometimes suggest he work less. “That’s when I have to say, ‘Well, I actually need to go to work,’” he said. Despite work obligations often preventing him from finishing his homework until 3 a.m., Martin remains positive. “I’m put in a shitty position, and I’ve learned from it how to make myself better because of it, not in spite of it,” Martin said. “Because the day I start thinking that my shit luck is nothing more than shit luck, then life gets a whole lot harder.”