‘Berg gives more bucks

Muhlenberg minimum wage increased to $9.25.

0
834
Photo Courtesy of the Office of Communications

Effective this academic year, the Office of Financial Aid increased student wages for all students who work an on-campus job. The new minimum wage is now $9.25, $1.25 more than in previous years ($8/hour).

Meg Ryan, vice president for enrollment management and Greg Mitton, director of financial aid, explained that “It had been several years since the pay rates for student employment were increased, a situation that warranted review.” The committee created to address this issue includes representatives from the Office of Financial Aid, the Business Office and Human Resources. 

However, it must be stated that the desire to increase student wages didn’t begin with the College administration. The Student Government Association (SGA) created an ad hoc committee in the Spring of 2022 centered on finding a way to increase wages. In addition, previously published articles in The Muhlenberg Weekly, Ava Dusik’s ‘23 “Let’s add some green to Muhlenberg’s colors” and Cydney Wilson’s ‘23 “The eight dollar question,” expressed the overwhelming frustration from the student body regarding student wages. 

According to Ryan and Mitton, “The committee had started our work at the same time that we heard from the ad hoc SGA committee on student wages. We met with the SGA committee a few times while doing this work to hear their questions and concerns while we worked to a solution.”

Matan Kogen ‘23, previous SGA member and chair of SGA’s committee to raise student wages, says “Before our committee got to work, there had not been a review since 2015 or 2016.” 

Kogen oversaw a team of nine students conducting research into student wages across Pennsylvania campuses, living wages across Lehigh Valley, and a recent history of student wages at Muhlenberg. “We used this information to create recommendations for our partners in the administration,” says Kogen.

According to a living wage calculator developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the current poverty wage for those living in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area is $6.53/hour, while the living wage is $16.74/hour. While $9.25 is greater than $8, as stated in Wilson’s article, “Muhlenberg students are paid significantly closer to the poverty wage than the living wage.” 

Kogen revealed that the committee’s original goal was a $12 median wage for all students, “but [this] is much better than the previous system.” 

“You should also know that the administration refused to give updates to our committee from March 13 until May 9. We were informed on April 12 the administration had established their own working group on student wages, which included no members of our Committee (and may not have included any students). On May 5, I spoke to President Harring in person but she refused to share any details and asked me to be patient. This effectively cut students off from one of the most crucial parts of the wages evaluation process, and may have played a role in keeping the new median student wage below our $12 target,” says Kogen.

The SGA committee is currently led by Andrew Buckwalter ‘24 and Vishmitha D’Souza ‘26, and will stay intact to ensure all students are paid fairly and to address any concerns regarding the increased wages.

Nonetheless, Ryan and Mitton wanted to emphasize that “Campus student employment jobs have a lot to offer our students beyond just pay—including mentorship, professional development, opportunities to connect with the Muhlenberg community and flexible schedules.”

The SGA committee also recommended the idea of a tiered system to the College, which is now in place along with the $9.25/hour baseline. This was created with the intention of paying students who work positions that require greater responsibilities and training fairly. 

As explained by Ryan and Mitton, “The goal of the tiered system is to ensure transparency and equity in our process across campus and standardize our practice. All job descriptions are evaluated to determine the appropriate tier based on the required qualifications and job responsibilities. The majority of our jobs will be Tier 1 [$9.25/hour]. These jobs are responsible for general tasks and provide essential support to various departments within the College. Tier 2 jobs [$11/hour] will have additional responsibilities like supervisory roles or specialized qualifications and skills. Tier 3 positions [$13/hour] will be reserved for those roles that require specific advanced qualifications, training, certifications or significant relevant experience.”

For instance, an office position at the Career Center or Trexler Library pays $9.25/hour, but a position such as a Writing Tutor is now being paid $13 an hour due to the extensive training students undergo to become a tutor and maintain their position. 

Ryan and Mitton added, “We also benchmarked our pay rates against more than two dozen comparable colleges, including those in the Lehigh Valley.”

“Our new pay structure ensures that our base pay rate matches the highest in the Lehigh Valley and is above the median of our comparator schools”

Meg Ryan & Gred Mitton

This is true. Specifically within the Lehigh Valley area, Muhlenberg now pays its students the highest. “Lehigh University, Lafayette College, DeSales University and Moravian University have minimum wages ranging from $8.25-9.25/hour, with students being paid up to $12 for some positions,” said Wilson in her article.

While the tiered system is an improvement, there are still concerns with regards to classifying which positions receive a higher pay. Tour Guides and Peer Tutors are currently being paid 9.25/hour despite these positions requiring extensive training and expertise knowledge.

Despite the continued concerns, the increase in wages is still a welcome change. Joshua Barsczewski, director of the Writing Center, expressed how the low wages were affecting his ability to get students to take on tutoring assignments. “In some cases, writing tutors who were trained here would take their substantial skills and work for other colleges in the area or private companies. Others just declined assignments because they were making more money in retail or dog walking. There’s a certain extent to which I could appeal to students’ altruism since tutoring directly helps our community, and of course the experience itself is valuable and rewarding, but altruism and good feelings don’t pay students’ bills. So, it became difficult to get highly qualified tutors excited about actually working on campus and I talked about it to anyone who would listen about how the low wages mitigated the culture of writing on campus.”

Writing Tutors actually planned to go on strike in the Fall of 2021 and again in the Spring of 2022 due to low wages. However, these strikes never materialized. 

Upon learning about the increased wages, many students were ecstatic. 

Jane Carney ‘24, who works as a Peer Tutor and now receives $9.25/hour says, “I was pleasantly surprised [by] the wage increase. It came at a time I needed it most.”

Rebekah Arye ‘24, who works as a Writing Tutor and is paid $13/hour says that “I think it’s good that wages are going up, and I like that the tiered system reflects the amount of expertise required for a job.”

However, regarding the tiered system, Arye added, “I personally would have aimed for 14/15 [dollars] for the top tier, but $13 is more than I actually thought we’d get so I’m pretty happy with it. The minimum wage in my state is $12, but I haven’t worked for less than $16 outside of Muhlenberg since I was 17.”

Along with being a writing tutor, Arye works three other jobs on campus: Lead Tutor for the Writing Center, Biology department Clerk and Resident Assistant (RA). “I wouldn’t say that the wages are effective in supporting me financially, but they’re better than nothing. I’m lucky to have a lot of help from my parents towards tuition, but all of the other costs of living really do add up over time and I’ll be curious to see how the new wages compare against my expenses,” Arye says.

Jullian Chaparro ‘26 has a work-study position in the Alumni Affairs Office, $9.25/hour, and says, “I’m a fan of the wage increase because it doesn’t force me to work as many hours each week which I could be using to study, relax, work out, etc.”

“I mean, it’s not a huge source of income but I think it can be really helpful if you put most if not all of your monthly pay into your savings.” 

Jullian Chaparro ‘26

However, like many other Muhlenberg students, Chaparro has turned towards obtaining an off-campus job in addition to his work-study position. Chaparro’s off-campus job pays him $15.50/hour. “I just find that at this stage of my life, I want to make more than what I normally get in my work-study because I [have to] start paying for my [car] insurance and other personal expenses. I’m nearly 19 and I don’t want to, and I also shouldn’t, consistently rely on [my parents].”

Many Muhlenberg students are financially independent, and while $9.25 is better than $8, it is unlikely that it would make a substantial difference in one’s ability to pay for tuition or personal expenses.

Alumni Des Suarez ‘23 had a work-study position in the Theater & Dance Department and two off campus jobs. Suarez worked at Wawa, where she was paid $15 an hour, and as a server in a local restaurant. “That’s how I paid bills through school. And I tried to put whatever I made from my work-study into my savings if I could, but it really wasn’t that much.

“The eight dollars wasn’t enough.”

Alumni Des Suarez ‘23

Daisy Cunningham ‘25, who works as a Writing Tutor and at the Lending Services Desk at Trexler Library, says, “I am fortunate enough that my family covers the cost of my weekly groceries/meal plan and such—if I was expected to cover these costs myself, the wages would not allow me to support myself financially.”

While the increased student wages are a step in the right direction, additional conversations and changes are inevitable as Muhlenberg and the country as a whole continue to grapple with the reality that a liveable wage remains elusive for many people.

Keanna Peña '25 is an English and Creative Writing major with a minor in Dance. She is a managing editor for The Weekly and loves writing about student events on campus and sharing her poetry.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here