Temple student workers unsatisfied with wages, working environment

Some student workers believe their pay isn’t reflective of the responsibilities involved with their positions.

Temple student workers want higher wages as they feel their pay doesn't reflect the responsibilities of their roles amid ongoing discussions about raising Pennsylvania's minimum wage. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

As conversations about raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania continue to stall, some student workers at Temple believe they should receive higher wages for on-campus work. 

Twenty-two states increased their minimum wages in the first week of 2024, but Pennsylvania’s remains at an hourly rate of $7.25. In June 2023, the Democrat-controlled Pennsylvania House passed legislation that would increase the minimum wage to $11 at the start of 2024, $13 in 2025 and $15 in 2026, but the bill was unsuccessful, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

At Temple, the base pay for student workers starts at $7.25, but schools, colleges and departments determine whether they can pay more.

Student workers’ wages vary based on what their responsibilities are and the school’s budget, said Sharon Boyle, vice president of Human Resources.

“Operating budgets affect everything,” Boyle said. “When budgets are cut or depending on what other demands are made in a department, they need to make a decision about how to allocate their resources.”

Temple employs both student workers, those who are paid by the university, and work-study student workers who receive funding for the work they do as a part of their financial aid for non-billable expenses.

The work-study program is a Federal Grant that allows students to earn funding through a bi-weekly paycheck as an aid to cover “non-billable educational expenses.” Students must have a valid FAFSA on file and qualify for federal aid to collect the funding. The position also has to be approved as a work-study job, according to the university.

“I think that we really do as a university try to employ students where we can,” Boyle said. “We’ll have to make adjustments depending on the different kinds of pressures, but I know HR does and I know other departments like having student workers and we like being able to provide students with supplemental income.”

However, some students feel the work they put in is not reflected in their paychecks. 

While she enjoys her colleagues and the work she does in the Campus Recreation department, Julia Taddei, a senior sports and recreation management major, believes her $7.50 wage poses a challenge to her schedule and financial situation.

“Balancing early mornings or late-night shifts with class schedules is already tough, and considering the out-of-state tuition I’ll need to address post-graduation, this presents a substantial financial hurdle for me and many others,” Taddei said. “Overall, I think that the disparity between our hard work and the pay sometimes leaves us all feeling undervalued.” 

The decision to raise pay for students is not a university-wide decision. Student workers’ wages are determined on a departmental, school or college basis about how they allocate their budget, Boyle said.

As a result of Temple’s continued struggle with declining undergraduate enrollment, the university has increased tuition and made budget cuts each year in an attempt to mitigate consequences for students and faculty.

The university has avoided job layoffs by using reserves, money saved across time from situations like position vacancies, said Jaison Kurichi, associate vice president for budget, in a November 2023 interview with The Temple News. Temple aims to prioritize preserving critical student experiences and services when cutting the budget. 

Other departments can afford to pay their student workers more. Some students, like Jason Solomon, a senior management information systems major, earned $10 per hour in the Spring 2022 semester and $12 per hour in Spring 2023 as a help desk analyst at the TECH Center. 

“I wasn’t too upset about what I was being paid because it was still more than what I guess other people are getting paid by Temple, but that also comes with the added knowledge I had to have at my job because I had to know more stuff, I guess,” Solomon said. “The pay still wasn’t the best in the grand scheme of things, but I did enjoy it.”

In 2017, 43 percent of full-time undergraduate students and 81 percent of part-time students were employed while enrolled in school, according to a 2020 Department of Education report.

Emma Harper, a senior environmental studies major, currently works as a student staffer for the Aramark STAR Complex climbing wall. She believes student workers typically rely on on-campus employment as their main source of income, which should be taken into account when determining their pay. 

“The daily expenses that full-time students have completely outweigh the pay that they receive if they have an on-campus job,” Harper said. “Which is completely unfair because a lot of students are restricted to only on-campus jobs because of convenience and location and because of their busy schedules.”

Pennsylvania is ranked as the nation’s most expensive state for higher education, according to U.S. News and World Report, which considers graduation rate, cost of in-state tuition and fees and the debt that college graduates carry from higher education.

Many of the services Temple offers are contingent on the labor of student workers, said Alyssa Dzurkovich, a senior public health major and a supervisor for Temple campus recreation. 

“I feel very underpaid for the work we’re doing because, without the student workers, they just wouldn’t be able to open the facilities that hundreds of students use every hour of the day,” Dzurkovich said. “Many of the workers get up really early to open the gym at 6 a.m. and stay late at night, even on weekends, to close the gym. We’re expected to act like managers. We are required to be certified in administering CPR and First Aid in case of any emergency.”  

Increasing pay for student workers in accordance with the state’s minimum wage and rising cost of living has been a concern for students since 2022.

In addition to low pay, some student worker jobs pose strenuous work conditions, which could be addressed with appropriate compensation, Dzurkovich said. 

“There’s been a lot of instances where we’re just trying to do our job, and we get yelled at by patrons or getting insulted, and we just kind of have to absorb that and not retaliate,” Dzurkovich said. “I think Temple definitely needs to reconsider paying campus recreation workers more for the service we provide just because we do a lot for the university.” 

Students like Harper, who are paid $7.40 an hour, are among the lowest-paid student workers at the university. Working full-time at 40 hours a week amounts to a yearly salary of just $15,392, a $34,608 difference from Phildalephia’s cost of living, which is 12 percent higher than the national average and does not include tuition.

Despite advocating for higher pay, the university does not allow for an increase in pay past what is granted by each department, Harper said.

“It is constantly talked about among staff how we all agree that our pay is way too low,” Harper said. “We all think that it’s crazy how low we get paid considering the importance of the fact that we keep everyone safe. We had multiple conversations about pay with our supervisor, which is our direct higher-up, but ultimately it is out of our direct higher-up’s power.” 

Samuel O’Neal contributed reporting.

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