Student employees’ struggles exceed their wages

Photo courtesy of Amanda Riehl.

According to the Urban Institute, during the 2015-2016 school year, “58 percent of full-time students worked either full time or part time while they were enrolled.” Their motivations vary from trying to gain resume experience to paying off student loans.

Jordan Meredith, a Ramapo senior and Center for Student Involvement staff member, said many students choose to work on-campus to avoid a lengthy commute. There is an extra benefit of “familiarity” from the start, instead of shifting to an entirely new environment.

Regardless of where they are employed, student employees are more likely to experience psychological and psychosomatic stress, according to a literature review published in 2018 by the Journal of Economic Surveys. When the responsibilities of holding a job negatively impact a student’s educational attainment, their labor market success, wealth and happiness are similarly affected later down the road.

"Personally, I can balance it since I can do homework here, but I know other students struggle with work and school," Meredith said, referring to how she can do assignments when not actively helping people at Roadrunner Express. 

Some jobs are more likely to negatively impact a student’s academic performance than others. Jobs that require constant physical activity don’t offer opportunities for students to study, and desk attendants have the added stress of adapting their sleep schedule around their shifts.

Considering the downsides of holding a job while in college, these students clearly deserve proper compensation for their labor. Colleges should understand this the most out of any employer. Unfortunately, the average hourly wage of a student employee working for a college or university is a mere $10.13.

The minimum wage in New Jersey is $13 an hour, and many on-campus positions pay more than that. Ramapo students like Meredith acknowledge how this college is superior to many others in its employee compensation, but plenty of students are still struggling.

Meredith described how a significant portion of her paychecks go back to the college. The fees associated with graduation are plentiful and expensive, not to mention the $100 charge for being accepted into one of the graduate programs Ramapo offers.

There is no simple answer to how the perpetual financial struggle associated with being a college student can be fixed. However, colleges and universities can start by fortifying their on-campus support systems and increasing leniency for student employees.

In Meredith’s experience, sickness and extreme emergencies are the only accepted excuses for not coming into work. Lateness and other minor infractions are heavily looked down upon. Although any job requires professionalism, academic institutions should be more mindful of the pressures their student employees are under. Students’ well-being and academics need to be prioritized.

The idea that student employees deserve to be paid fairly seems obvious. “We need to make a living just like everyone else,” Meredith said. However, the broke college student stereotype prevails and occasionally excuses mistreatment. "We shouldn’t be broke. We should be able to have the means to provide for ourselves and be able to go out once in a while and treat ourselves to a nicer meal than the dining hall."