In the financial aid town hall last semester, the administration implemented changes to the summer portion of the student income contribution, reducing the expectation by $1,350 for high-need students and $450 for everyone else. However, many students voiced concern that the term-time contribution — which stands at $3,350 for upperclassmen — remains a large hurdle that hinders students’ ability to focus on academics and participate in extracurricular activities. In response to calls for greater revision, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said that students don’t seem to have trouble with the term-time cost, as data from the Student Employment Office has shown that students on financial aid spend an average of less than five hours per week at those jobs. Still, Quinlan said he was open to hearing other interpretations of data.
The average five-hour working commitment cited by Quinlan is much less than the 10–12 hours a week that would be required under the campus minimum wage to fulfill the portion of the “term-time job” that is the first part of every financial aid package. However, his claim that students are working fewer hours per week than would be required is not a valid reason to conclude that the term-time job poses little burden on students. This logic is akin to a politician arguing that rising unemployment or a falling labor force participation rate means people are becoming more prosperous.
The reality is that there are not enough student jobs at Yale to fulfill the demand that exists among undergraduates alone. Roughly 50 percent of Yale students are on financial aid (and thus may need to work), which translates to about 3,000 undergraduates with a demand for about 10 hours of work a week, which is equal to roughly 30,000 hours. The average of five hours quoted by officials means that students are working roughly 15,000 hours, leaving an additional 15,000 hours of work unfulfilled. If we look at the Student Employment Office’s website, we can observe that there are a total of roughly 200 student jobs currently open on campus, which are certainly not enough to fill the shortfall under the estimate that students must work 10 hours a week. Furthermore, this “job market” at Yale not only caters to undergraduates but to the entire graduate community as well, and as a result, many undergrads fail to qualify since certain jobs require specialized skills.
Therefore, we can conclude that students work less or not at all because finding a student job is a rather uncertain process. When I asked roughly half a dozen of my peers why they’re not working, many people stated that they had “applied to like 20 on-campus jobs but not did not hear back from anyone.” We see this type of discouragement play out in the job market of the real world as well; people drop out of the labor force after a prolonged job search rather than continuing to search in vain for an occupation. On the employer side, there is an intense demand for (some) jobs with over 100 applicants submitting their resume for a single job posting.
Just as there are structural rigidities in the real job market, similar rigidities exist for student-workers as well. Firstly, a single job may not always be enough to provide one with the requisite 10–12 hours a week. Also, many jobs usually require a student to commit large blocks of time during the normal workday, which can conflict with classes, sections and other commitments. Hence, the types of jobs available are often incompatible with the types of hours demanded by students.
Finally, the student income contribution could create an unfair disadvantage for students based on socioeconomic status. For some, “dropping out of the workforce” may not be an option and as a result, they must cut down on extracurricular commitments to make time for the 10–12 hours of work a week. One the other hand, as we progress up the socioeconomic ladder, students may be able to depend on families to help meet their income contribution if the job search appears to be futile. This leaves low-income/high-need students to work longer while those who are slightly more well-off can gain a entirely different Yale experience. This invalidates the blanket claim made by Quinlan that students seem not to have as much trouble with the term-time contribution.
Whether revising the student expectation further or expanding job offerings, Yale has plenty of work left to do.
Gaurav Pathak is a freshman in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .