Temple, pay student workers fair wages

A student argues that Temple should raise student worker wages because students cannot afford rising living expenses.


Temple University students spend thousands of dollars on their education, yet they earn low wages from student worker positions that cannot cover living costs in North Philadelphia.

Student worker jobs are generally hourly positions funded through individual departments on campus. Rates for these jobs vary throughout the university, but students can expect to earn roughly $12 per hour. 

As tuition rates and North Philadelphia living costs soar, Temple has the responsibility to ensure that students can financially support themselves. Higher student worker wages are essential because stagnant wages amid nationwide inflation are not sufficient for students to afford living expenses. On Jan. 31, Pennsylvania raised the minimum wage for Commonwealth employees to $15 an hour so Temple University must pay their students that rate.

Last year, Temple increased tuition by 2.5 percent to $16,488 for in-state students and $29,712 for out-of-state students and hopes to raise it by the same rate again for the 2022-23 academic year, according to the university’s budget request for the fiscal year 2022-23.

“If they’re gonna raise tuition, they should be able to raise our hourly wages too,” said Biana Poliakov, a junior bioengineering major, who earned only $9 an hour as a Leadership and Career Studies Peer Mentor.

Twenty-five percent of Main Campus students live in North Philadelphia on or near campus where rent costs $952 and other living expenses are estimated at more than $1,000 per month. As inflation persists, these costs are rising and students’ inability to support themselves will become a larger problem.

Some student worker jobs pay as low as $7.25 an hour, which is not considered a living wage. Temple recommends that students work 20 hours per week, but a minimum wage job would only equal a gross pay of $580 a month. With this income, the average student would be unable to afford basic living expenses of almost $2,000 a month if living on or near Main Campus.

There’s no way anybody would be able to live here on minimum wage, said Rhiannon Jerch, an assistant economics professor.

“It’s part of the mission of the university to create an environment where people can come here and get a good education but also afford to live here while they’re doing that,” Jerch said.

Between April 2021 and April 2022, city-wide rent increased by 8.5 percent, and now the Greater Philadelphia area is facing an 8.4 percent inflation rate, the highest rate in 40 years, leading to a spike in the price of all living expenses, according to The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, a non-profit economic research organization.

“Temple needs to support their students and accommodate them as the cost of living rises and cost of tuition rises and the cost of bread at the grocery store rises,” said Ellie Labriola, a junior biology and neuroscience major. “That’s just basic human decency.”

Labriola works as a lab prep student in the Biology and Life Science Building where she earns $12 an hour. She considers her wages fairly high, which she thinks is a sad reality. 

She paid her monthly expenses with savings, but her student worker income alone would not have been enough. However, not all students can afford to rely on savings 

“Temple is a really unique school in that we have such an incredibly diverse student population, but that also means that we need to accommodate students of all socio-economic backgrounds and give them opportunities to provide for themselves while they’re in school,” Labriola said.

Some employers support Temple raising student worker wages because they lack the department funding to raise rates themselves.

“If I could pay our student workers in the Klein Career Center $15 an hour or more, I absolutely would,” wrote Lu Ann Cahn, the director of career services at Klein College of Media and Communication, in an email to The Temple News. “Their work is invaluable to our mission. Unfortunately, we have budget constraints that limit hourly wages.”

Temple should prioritize students’ needs when weighing budget constraints. Nearly one in four Greater Philadelphia four-year university students are food insecure, according to a May 2021 report from The Hope Center. In addition, food-insecure students were more than 40 percent less likely to graduate college, according to a July 2021 study by Public Health Nutrition, a Cambridge University Press journal. Raising wages could help food-insecure students have enough money for nutritional foods, improving their odds of graduating.

Some students believe that Temple’s promotion of student worker opportunities is misleading because students often need to find additional jobs off-campus to afford their living expenses. 

“They advocate that we have student worker positions, but then they always leave out the fact that you’re not going to be able to live on it,” said Sinh Taylor, a senior gender, sexuality, and women’s studies major.

Taylor balanced their position as a Lead CLA Ambassador with classes, an internship and a full-time video game repair technician job to support themself and their child. Working solely as a student worker absolutely would not have been enough to live off, they said.

Students should be worried about their coursework, not if they will be able to pay next month’s rent because financial insecurity inhibits students’ academic success. Without Temple’s intervention of creating at least a $15 minimum wage for student workers, this will continue to be the reality for many students.

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