What are you paying your work-study students?

This is the time of year when we begin to think about our classes, the fall excitement, and a crop of new students coming through our doors. Many of those will qualify for work study. This is a federal program that pays half their salary for some number of hours. We pay the rest. These students are swept into many positions and do things like help check out books, xerox, work in food and dining, athletics, many things that may not have much to do with their academic work. At least at my institution, many of these students are paid around the minimum wage which this year in St Louis is $7.25/hour. THIS IS INSANE!!!!IMG_6647

How can we condone this? We are a very expensive university. We do not have need blind admissions. Why do we run our plant on the backs of the undergraduates that probably most need our support? Why can’t we pay a fair wage to these bright young students? At the very least, we should pay the minimum wage out of our own funds, so the students get $14.50 per hour.

Furthermore, a lot of campus employers terminate students the minute they hit their work study cap. What are these needy, hard working students supposed to do then? Do we really need to abuse them in this way?

I guess I can’t change what the library or athletics, or the dining halls do, or the many other offices that exploit students. But I can talk about what I do in my research lab. For me this is all part of the larger question of how we compensate undergrads doing research. A lot, perhaps most faculty do not pay students during the academic year. I was not paid to do research as an undergraduate. But I did not have to work to put myself through Michigan. How much time does a student have that also needs to work?

So, I propose that we manage our research funds so we can offer undergraduates either pay or credit and we make that pay a fair wage. In this country there is currently a movement to increase minimum wage to $15/hour. I bet many of the same faculty paying their undergraduates minimum wage under $8/hour, or offering credit only are the same ones that would support this national movement. In fact, I myself am somewhat of a hypocrite on this score, since I only pay my undergrads $13/hour. Even with that modest salary, I’ve heard some pushback in the department, with people mentioning how much more that is than others pay.

Where is it going to stop? How can we exploit these young minds and not even feel bad about it? I don’t get it.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Research, Undergraduates, Your lab group and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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