BLACKMON: Your campus job is in danger

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The provost’s office is about to end student employment as we know it, and they really did not want you to find out about it.

BlackmonTAs one of several budget cuts to university services for the 2014-’15 academic year, the University has proposed cutbacks to the 50/50 split program that has come to define the student employment experience on campus.

As the system currently stands, the provost’s office covers half of a student worker’s wage, so that if an employer wishes to pay a student $14 per hour, that employer pays only $7 while the provost’s office covers the other $7. This setup helps employers deal with a bottom line, but it is particularly crucial for students — it allows employers to hire more student workers and pay them a significantly higher wage than would otherwise be possible.

With so many students dependent on campus employment to cover school expenses during the year, this funding mechanism has become a powerful force for college affordability at Yale.

Fortunately for the provost’s office, most students do not even realize they are participating in the program. But if you currently hold a job on campus, you are more than likely the beneficiary of the generous 50/50 split.

In order to help address Yale’s $39 million budget shortfall, all of that progress may soon come to an end. If the proposed cuts go into effect next year, students will only qualify for the 50/50 split if they fulfill four qualifications: They must be full-time Yale College undergraduates who are on financial aid, earn no more than $15 per hour and receive no wages from a sponsored award.

Though the last qualification has been standard in the current program, the rigid financial aid requirement and the artificial $15 per hour cap will scale back the number of students able to find employment next academic year and unnecessarily anchor most students to a lower wage.

Admittedly, at first the financial aid requirement might seem appropriate. After all, if indeed the University must make cuts to student wages, surely those who must contribute income to their financial aid packages should be prioritized. In fact, I have often argued we should require on-campus employers to give preference to financial aid recipients early in the semester so they may earn the required $2,300 expected from a term-time job.

Nevertheless, my advocacy for financial aid preference always relied upon the assumption that students without a financial aid package could also compete for jobs after a month of preferential hiring. But under the proposed system, if you are not receiving financial aid, finding employment will prove nearly impossible. No employer would pay twice as much to hire or retain non-financial aid student workers.

And yet, the $15 cap seems even more ill-advised than the financial aid restrictions. Surely with so many economists on Yale’s payroll, administrators should see the cap’s obvious flaw: It artificially traps students with upward mobility at a low wage. Right now, an employer can pay a student a $15 wage with only $7.50, a $16 wage with only $8 and so on. But under the proposed system, a student with a wage of $15 costs an employer $7.50 while a student with a wage of $16 costs a full $16. Put simply, increasing the wage only $1 would cost an employer an additional $8.50.

Even if we accept the idea that we should balance the University budget on the backs of working students (a scary thought indeed), the mathematics behind this policy does not add up.

At the very least, the provost’s office should freeze their rebate at $7.50 for higher-wage workers instead of suddenly pulling support from students upon reaching $15. Without that change, employers will not only stop giving students raises beyond $15 per hour, but they may even bow to the temptation to reduce current student wages from higher wages down to $15 — a decision that would have a particularly profound impact on students from low-income families who have already budgeted meticulously for next year.

Of course, we need not settle for such a compromise in the first place, for doing so would be buying into the assumption that Yale’s troubling new trend of undermining college affordability is acceptable behavior for a University that still laughably claims to meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need for incoming students.

These cuts to student wages are particularly humiliating in light of the Yale Corporation’s ongoing solicitations for big-ticket donations for the new residential colleges and for a whopping $17 million renovation to the President’s House on Hillhouse.

Maybe Yale administrators did not realize the impact they would have on students in undermining the 50/50 split. Maybe they did and simply thought we would willingly take yet another blow to our finances.

But when the first of the layoffs come down in August, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Tyler Blackmon is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. His columns run on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at tyler.blackmon@yale.edu .

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