Eight dollars—a fancy Java Joe drink, three chicken tenders and a small bag of chips; or an hour of a student’s time and hard work. Here, that is what eight dollars is worth. Across campus, students yield to eight dollars an hour as payment out of necessity and convenience. Campus work gives students the ability to earn an essential paycheck, allowing for an easier and more time-efficient commute to and from their workplaces than would be achieved with work outside of Muhlenberg. Without a car and a way to pay for transportation, combined with a stacked class schedule and workload, most students are unable to find work beyond our Muhlenberg bubble, forced to accept however much Muhlenberg is willing to give. As a result, eight dollars an hour remains our pay.
While Muhlenberg offers a paycheck 75 cents above the federal and Pennsylvanian minimum wage (not including the tax cuts which results in even less pay), the amount is nowhere near sustainable and profitable enough to keep up with the increase of tuition prices and cost of living, requiring some students to have up to three jobs, on top of schoolwork, in order to maintain their livelihoods. The story gets more complicated when looking at Muhlenberg College’s population. Muhlenberg College is largely made up of students coming from New York and New Jersey, two East Coast states with some of the highest minimum wages in the country (15 dollars and 11 dollars, respectively). The discrepancy between our home state and college state pay is both drastic and disheartening, leaving students to have to deal with the large difference and loss of money in their bank accounts as a result of attending Muhlenberg. I acknowledge that part of this issue rests on Pennsylvania’s need to raise its minimum wage (please vote!), but with Muhlenberg College being a private institution that has the ability to delegate funds and set its own wage payment, it is important to question why this has not been a priority. If Muhlenberg can get granted a whole new building and predict that they will raise $111 million dollars by 2025, they can also raise the wages.
Conditions seem to be slowly getting better—emphasis on the “slowly.” Tour guides only just started getting compensated for their work last spring despite being a major source of revenue for the college by recruiting students with their dedicated speeches supporting the campus. Students, such as myself, have acknowledged that the tours were one of the main reasons Muhlenberg College was high on their list of schools to attend. Orientation leaders are still considered a volunteer position, despite being the first support network for freshmen (and now sophomores) as well as being integral members of the move-in process, carrying large items in the crushing heat and establishing an organizational flow. Emerging leader mentors, who are critical assets to the comfortability and are a major support system for students of color, also don’t get paid. Resident advisors still do not get free housing, despite that being the standard for most colleges in the country, and the pay is not enough to cover housing costs, to begin with. Tutors do not get paid for prep work if they only have an individual tutoring session, despite having to spend hours on prep anyway (depending on the number of hours worked, raises are possible). Despite being seen as a progressive liberal arts institution, Muhlenberg College is lacking in giving students the appropriate funds for their work. I am grateful for the ability to have a job and continue my schoolwork, but for being invaluable members of the Muhlenberg community, we are worth more than three chicken tenders and a bag of chips.