Opinion | Point: Want student workers? Pay them

By Grace McGinness, Staff Columnist

Ohio State University announced Aug. 30 its plan to increase its staff minimum wage to $15 per hour next year. This could potentially affect more than 4,800 jobs and will include any students who work in staff positions, but positions labeled as student jobs will be excluded from this wage increase.

Ohio State did not give an explanation as to why it left out its student employees from the pay raise, but student workers are just as deserving of consideration for their work. They should be paid more for what they contribute to their university.

Student job is a vague term that could be used to include every job from a dishwasher in the dining halls to research assistant in a biochemical lab. There is a discrepancy in the skill set required for those positions. But a considerable amount of employment offers for student workers ask for some kind of prior experience. At research-focused schools such as Pitt, many employment opportunities are for a lab assistant, which requires at least some completed coursework in the field. While course work is not employment experience, these positions are still asking for some kind of experience, and that experience should be accounted for in the wage.

These positions aren’t looking for unqualified people who they can mold to fit the job’s demands. University employers want to take advantage of the pool of university-educated students that already exist inside their buildings, and students want to work on campus as well — making it a mutually beneficial relationship.

But students have already cultivated a valuable skill set even if they are only partway through their education, and this experience deserves pay above minimum wage when it is applied to what amounts to entry-level employment. If universities determine that entry-level jobs deserve $15 an hour, then they should offer the same increase in pay for the positions that require prior experience. Even a cashier job at Panera offers a starting wage of $9 to stay competitive in the pool of working students. It should be a red flag that a chain fast food restaurant values people’s work more than universities do of their own students.

Universities offering $8 per hour may find themselves unable to compete with outside businesses offering more just down the block. In addition, some universities like Pitt have a restriction against student employees working more than 20 hours per week. At the rate of minimum wage, the most a student can make is $640 a month before tax. In South Oakland, $500 is considered decent rent — which leaves not much left on a monthly basis. The problem already exists, and ignoring it is not a proper nor responsible solution.

Aside from the delusion that these student positions require completely unskilled labor, the assumption that students are only working for pocket change is also misguided. Other minimum wage jobs tend to employ adolescents who are still dependent on their parents’ income for their labor force. While students consist mainly of young adults, it is inappropriate to assume that every student still has the support of income besides their own. Nearly a quarter of students report being entirely responsible for paying their college education. Legally, students are adults and since many support themselves financially, they should be paid like adults.

A common concern about pay increases is how this change would affect tuition. Some say that if tuition were raised, then whatever is gained by the pay increase becomes null because the student will just have to pay back the university what they just earned. Even if that money would go back to the university, raising the minimum wage would dramatically help students save money from interest accumulated on loans. If students can mitigate the amount of loans they need to take out now, the amount of money they would owe later will lower exponentially.

The University of Pittsburgh has made a promise to each of its students to provide resources for enriching the mind and self, though students cannot take advantage of them if they are struggling to make ends meet. It is time to acknowledge the work that students do for the University. It is time that students got a raise.

You can reach Grace McGinness by emailing her at [email protected]. Or you can find her on Twitter here.