High self-help cuts into wage increase

In an effort to keep on-campus jobs competitive and accommodate the increasing cost of attending Yale, the University increased Yale’s student minimum wage this year from $10.50 to $10.90 an hour.

But for many of the 1,725 students working at Yale this semester, the increase in the student minimum wage is welcome but insufficient, as it will still not help them fully meet the self-help portion of financial aid. While Yale’s minimum wage is higher than the listed wages of several of its Ivy League counterparts, the University also has a higher self-help requirement, and students said further financial aid reform must go beyond wage increases.

Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi said this year’s five percent increase in the student minimum wage was meant to keep pace with this year’s five percent increase in tuition, room and board.

“We wanted students to have an active role in self help,” Storlazzi said. “Until 2002-2003 it wasn’t possible for students to earn their entire self-help without borrowing. It wasn’t even in the realm of possibility.”

Under financial aid reforms enacted in the 2002-2003 year, self-help was reduced from $6,000 for freshman and sophomores and $8,500 for juniors and seniors to $3,900 for all classes. For the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 school years, self-help was $4,400.

Student Employment Manager Matthew Long said the University ties wages to self-help because it expects students to make a contribution to their financial aid. Yale wants students to work on campus because those jobs help them become more involved in the school community, he said.

“If students want to work, we want them to work at school or in the community,” Long said. “If we can stay competitive on campus, then perhaps they will stay.”

Although many students said they strongly support the minimum-wage increase, they said they do not think it contributes sufficiently to financial aid reform. Regardless of financial aid status, students should be able to choose whether or not they work while in college, they said.

“I think it’s sort of a bandage to the bigger program that a lot of students are forced to work, not by choice, and in a way that cuts into their other experience at Yale and takes away from what students are able to get out of Yale,” Undergraduate Organizing Committee member Phoebe Rounds ’07 said. “Harvard and Princeton have better financial aid packages, despite the fact they have lower minimum wage, and I think that lets them graduate with less debt than at Yale.”

But other students said those on financial aid who work are not overly limited by the time constraints of their jobs.

“Yale’s wages are more than reasonable,” said Kyle Mathews ’08, who is on financial aid. “Yale’s certainly an expensive school to attend, however, the minimum wage on campus is sufficiently high enough to allow students to earn a decent amount … while leaving time for classes and extracurriculars.”

Storlazzi said students on financial aid and employed by the University work an average of eight hours a week. But working during the entire 30-week school year at eight hours a week at the $10.90 minimum wage, students would still fall about $1,784 short of the required self-help contribution. Students who make minimum wage and work 30 weeks a year would need to work over 13 hours a week to fulfill their self-help contribution.

According to the Yale financial aid Web site, students should use a combination of loans and employment to meet their self-help contribution, and should graduate with “manageable levels of indebtedness.”

Unlike Yale, Harvard University does not have a set minimum wage or pay grade. According to its Student Employment Office Web site, Harvard suggests guidelines for student wages, but does not manage specific wages for particular student jobs. At Harvard, undergraduate administrative assistants are paid $8.50-$11.45, Federal-Work Study students $8.75-$11.45, and library services workers $9.00-$11.50 an hour, the Web site says. Harvard students said their un-standardized system is comparable to a real world job market.

“When we apply to jobs [after graduation], we are not going to know every single wage from job to job,” Harvard sophomore Odette Rodrigues said. “I think the standardized system might make things easier when you first get here in September, but in the end I think most of us do know where the high paying jobs are.”

Harvard Student Employment Director Meg Swift said Harvard increases its student wages in accordance with inflation rates, which usually amount to a three percent baseline increase every year. She said most employers pay their students higher than the Web site’s listed guidelines. But because Harvard is “very decentralized” and pay rates vary from department to department, she said, Harvard does not have information on statistics such as the average student wage. Harvard students have a self-help of $3,750 which can be met through loans or student employment.

Rodrigues said the low wages Harvard sets for work-study jobs have discouraged her from applying to them. Instead, she has mostly sought higher paying jobs such as research or babysitting off-campus. But even if some Harvard jobs have low wages, she said, the university recognizes that students on financial aid need extra financial help. For example, Harvard has a Student Events Fund, which was created in 2002 to provide students on full financial aid with free tickets to campus events.

“Last year I wasn’t on the [Student Events Fund] list, so I knew that I needed that extra $10 or $11 to go to the cultural event on the weekend, but now that on I’m in the student event fund program I’m less stressed,” Rodrigues said. “I have been to an event every single weekend that I have been back and I haven’t had to think about that $10 or $11.”

Princeton Student Employment Director Betty Ashwood said Princeton wages also increase three percent a year and are tied not only to the cost of living index, but to the increases in students’ self-help requirement. While Ashwood said she was surprised by Yale’s high minimum wage, she emphasized that when calculating financial aid and self-help, Princeton does not expect its students to carry loans. She said Princeton’s annual self-help requirement of $2,630 for freshman, $3,040 for sophomores, $3,075 for juniors and $3,110 for seniors is lower than Yale’s $4,400 self-help. Princeton’s self-help requirement increases each year, she said, because even if students do not progress across various pay levels, their wage still increases in accordance with total cumulative hours worked.

While Princeton’s “sitting wage” — which applies to jobs in which students are expected to perform work-related tasks only 50 percent of the time spent on the clock — is $7.15 an hour, its next pay level starts at $9.70 an hour. After students work 241 cumulative hours, pay can increase to $10.15 an hour.

Princeton students said although their minimum wage is lower than Yale’s, they think their overall financial aid package is more reasonable.

“I don’t think it needs to change, because Princeton’s financial aid from my perspective is fairly kind and generous,” Princeton sophomore Raymond Zhong said. “They are aware how much time students can devote to jobs versus school work.”

At the University of Connecticut, the lowest pay for student workers corresponds to Connecticut’s state minimum wage of $7.40. Jose Serrano ’09, who transferred from UConn, said that while it has lower wages than Yale, its tuition is much lower and students have more time to work.

“I think a very important fact is that they can work more hours because the classes are easier, and the school takes advantage of that with the low salary,” Serrano said.

UConn Assistant Director for Student Employment Jackie Soroka said that because UConn is a public school with limited funds, UConn looks at what knowledge or skills are needed for a job when determining wages and does not take financial aid into account.

“We follow very much more of a human resources model and look at each position and description, what are essential functions of this job,” Soroka said. “Budget is a consideration — there is not one big pot. Individual money is doled up by department.”

While Yale’s minimum wage is higher than the lowest wages for Princeton and Harvard, the Connecticut state minimum wage of $7.40 is higher than New Jersey’s $7.15, Massachusetts’s $6.75 and the federal minimum wage of $5.15. But Yale economics professor Parama Chaudhury said she does not think that in comparing those states, Connecticut would have the highest prices or standard of living.

“One way you could think of it is that the University as the enlightened employer wants to go in and do something about minimum wage,” Chaudhury said. “And in the town of New Haven, the minimum wage that Yale sets has great effect, where as in Cambridge it would not have the same effect.”

But overall, she said it is hard to pinpoint why there is a discrepancy in wages among the schools.

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