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Notre Dame’s dwindling student wages

| Thursday, October 17, 2019

Notre Dame students perform a wide variety of paid jobs on campus. Students clean and supervise weight room and cardio machines in the Smith Center so you can work out safely. Students work side by side with full-time employees to prepare your dining hall meals. Students may even grade your tests and papers or conduct your office hours, depending on your classes. Yet, for many of these jobs, the University determined your efforts to be worth a mere $8.32 per hour. As some may remember from my original column, this wage means you need to work more than two hours to buy one meal at the dining hall.

Once again, I wanted to put these numbers in context, and, once again, I ran into the issue of deciding which universities to consider peers of Notre Dame. Since wage laws vary greatly by state, I decided it was only fair to look at the other large universities in the state of Indiana. The four-year schools larger than Notre Dame are Indiana University, Purdue University, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), Ball State University and Indiana Wesleyan University. Indiana Wesleyan is a private Christian school and does not appear to offer work study according to their website, so they were not included in my research. In its place, I looked at Indiana State University, the next largest university after Notre Dame.

Indiana University sets a $10.15 minimum wage. This minimum is effective at all Indiana branches, including IU-South Bend. Purdue classifies its on campus jobs into four tiers based on the job’s complexity, with pay rates ranging from the federal minimum wage of $7.25 to a minimum of $13.06 for the tier four jobs. Ball State starts everyone at the federal minimum, with a wage increase of 25 cents per semester, capped at $9 per hour. Lastly, in 2018 Indiana State raised their minimum wage to $8.40.

Let’s compare these numbers to Notre Dame’s student employment figures. The school breaks pay rates into three categories: basic, intermediate and skilled. Pay rates for the three are $8.32, $8.75 and $9.17 respectively. Hours worked are capped at 20 per week. The Office of Student Employment (OSE) informed me that wages are determined based on three factors: the range of duties involved in the job, the knowledge and skills necessary to perform the job and the “wage relationships” with other student employees doing similar work. The OSE also said the pay tier is determined by the employer. Similarly, the OSE reported raises are determined by employers, and they are based on performance, with common reasons for raises listed by the Office as “exceptional performance, increased responsibilities and pay equity with other student employees.” Lastly, the OSE said the 20-hour limit on hours worked per week was created to allow “students to dedicate sufficient time to their studies while working.”

Our wages are lower than the state’s two flagship public universities, Indiana and Purdue. Even the “routine and simple” jobs at Purdue are eligible to be paid up to $11.30 an hour. There is also a lack of transparency surrounding student wages at Notre Dame, which is a consistent problem at this university. While Ball State might start its students off at a rate lower than Notre Dame, at least they have a clear policy in place for raises.

I have worked on campus every semester. Despite receiving promotions, both formally in terms of my title and informally in terms of the type of work I am expected to do, my wages have barely increased. When I compare a pay stub from December 2016 to October 2019, my RecSports pay rate increased by 15 cents after I went from an official to a supervisor. However, when accounting for inflation, my wages actually decreased. My RecSports pay as a freshman referee, $8.60 per hour, is $9.14 in August 2019 dollars, the most recent month that data is available. Yet my pay has only increased to $8.75 as a senior supervisor. When considered in reverse, $8.75 today is only $8.23 after inflation in December 2016. In other words, in real terms, my wages have fallen 4.3% since 2016.

This decrease also does not account for the tuition increases the University imposed at the end of the 2017 and 2018 school years. Tuition was raised 3.7% in 2017 and 3.6% in 2018. Not only are our wages not keeping up with inflation, they are not even keeping up with the cost of attending Notre Dame.

I encourage every student worker to login to Pay Statement on Inside ND to check their own pay stubs over time. Know your pay rate and how much the University values your time. Then use the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s inflation calculator to see whether your wages have actually increased.

I am not proposing the University needs to pay student workers $15 per hour, as nice as that would be. I am, however, calling for more reasonable solutions. Wages that keep up with inflation rates and tuition feel like a basic standard. A guide to how the University determines wages for each job and how pay raises are set each semester should be released publicly as a handbook for student workers. As always, any communication or dialogue from the University about our wages would be appreciated.

Above all else, inform your fellow students about how little the University values their time. Not every student is going to care. Some students take jobs just to fill spare time or because their parents told them they had to work, but other people rely on these jobs to fulfill federal work study allotments and to pay for things ranging from groceries to dorm dance tickets. Pay is an especially pertinent issue to graduate students, who are even more likely to work on campus as teaching assistants and researchers. The more we take issue with our pay, the greater a chance there is the University will do something about it.

Ben Testani is a senior studying international economics, Arabic and Spanish. He comes to Notre Dame via Central New York and while currently residing off-campus, will always be a proud Alumni Dawg. He welcomes feedback at [email protected] or @BenTestani on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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