HR Plans Pay Category Changes for Student Jobs

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

According to a draft proposal obtained by the Daily Gazette, Human Resources has proposed student pay category changes to 69 student job definitions at the college. All but four are downgrades; nine shift down two pay categories, from category 3 to category 1. Salary for categories 3 to 1 range from $8.80 to $8.30, declining in intervals of $0.25.

Director of Human Resources Melanie Young confirmed to the Gazette that changes to student pay categories are a part of planned reforms to student employment following the Student Employment Office’s recent absorption into the HR umbrella. “There are a couple of jobs that went up, and there are a couple of jobs that went down,” Young said. “I don’t think it’ll have an overall big effect. There weren’t that many jobs changed to be lower paying.”

The proposal was given to the Daily Gazette by an individual involved in hiring student employees, who requested anonymity due to concerns about their own employment at the College.

HR’s recent focus on the structure of student pay categories arose as part of a larger plan to streamline the student employment process, which includes a phasing out of student pay cards and the advent of an online hour reporting system based on the mySwarthmore sub-site, Young said.

According to Young, HR identified two major inequities regarding student employment: (1) inequality in pay within the same job category, and (2) inequality in job difficulty within pay categories.

“Although some job duties were pretty much the same from department to department, some paid [that job] as a 1, some paid it as a 2, and some paid it as a 3. Depending on which of those departments you were working in, you would get a different pay rate,” Young said.

As for the other perceived inequality, Young said that her office received numerous complaints from students in the highest pay category (3), arguing that the amount of expertise and effort required in their positions was not equitable compared to that of other positions included in the same category.

“So people who were doing jobs that were on the face very difficult and complicated were being paid the same as a student who is an office assistant and stuffing envelopes,” Young said.

The anonymous source said that they thought that having less “skilled” professions in the highest pay categories was acceptable, as many other “skilled” jobs in that category “are prestigious and will look great on a resume, or [involve] doing something that’s directly applicable to their academic interests.”

Young said that a draft proposal had been sent to all student employers, though declined to reveal the current work-product.

Despite the interest in transforming pay categories to more accurately represent the amount of skill and effort required for included positions, the proposed changes to address the received concerns do not include any changes to the actual salary rates embedded in each pay category. According to Young, any change to student hourly salary in any pay category must be approved by the Board of Managers.

“There’s not a proposal to the Board of Managers to do that… [HR’s] philosophy is to make student pay categories congruent with one another, but not necessarily related to [student pay] in the outside world. This is not a time to change that, in this environmental climate,” Young said.

As a whole, the job reclassifications are based on a revised system of job criteria recently drafted by HR to more consistently demarcate what jobs belong in what category.

“Jobs will be graded based upon the complexity of the position, level of responsibility the position requires, skills and experience necessary, supervision and physical effort required,” states a document intended for departments needing guidelines to classify new positions. “Some consideration will be given for the degree of difficulty in filling a position. (i.e. morning shuttle driver).”

The lowest paygrade, Category I, now includes all positions deemed by HR to entail “mainly routine tasks,” and that require “minimal skills, experience, responsibility, or physical effort.” Such jobs include, “Dishwasher,” “Library Assistant,” “File Clerk,” “Office Assistant,” and “Gameroom Attendant.”

In contrast, Category II positions require “some technical skill” and responsibility, and may require “some previous experience and physical effort.” Positions that are now placed in this revised category include, “SBC Assistant Manager,” “Parlor Party Host,” “Web Site Coordinator/Tech Intern,” and “Tour Guide.”

Finally, Category III jobs require “expertise or a high level of technical skill, experience, or responsibility.” They may be supervisory positions, and may be considered roles that are “difficult to fill.” Example jobs include “Phonathon Caller,” “SAM,” “Career Peer Advisor,” “Grader,” and “Learning for Life Coordinator.”

“Very little is in stone at this point,” Young said. “Our intention is for all of those changes to be finalized in the next couple of weeks… we are in the process of going back and forth with employers and students about those jobs. In the next couple of weeks, we should have [the changes] finalized, so that students know about them when they are signing up for jobs for next Fall.”


  1. Wow. Thanks Swarthmore, between this and the limit on hours you can work, it should be nearly impossible to pay the $50k per year you charge.

  2. I don't agree with "Dishwasher" being put in Category I. Are you sure dishwashing or shelving books in the library is as easy as being a “Phonathon Caller,” “SAM,” “Career Peer Advisor,” and “Learning for Life Coordinator.” Come on! Think clearly HR!

  3. Unless I'm mistaken, Category I still pays better than minimum wage, which is certainly what a dishwasher would be making in the real world, so there is hardly any reason to complain.

    Also, the four jobs that you tried to cast doubt on all require some skill beyond "use your hands to do this monotonous task," so I would say they definitely merit higher pay.

  4. As one of the two Learning For Life Coordinators this year, it is interesting to me that the Gazette chose to use it as an example when, as far as I can see, it is not explicitly mentioned on either of the job lists. Additionally, it is worth noting that the Learning For Life coordinators serve at the same pay scale and with similar (analogous) responsibilities to over 10 other Lang Center Interns.

  5. One slight correction– the Learning For Life coordinator position is listed on page three of the "evaluation criteria" document.

  6. The one problem I see with this (and I really don't know much about it) is that I thought a lot of times work-study programs put students to do things that are now all the loewest level? Whereas the highest level are things that anyone (like people not on financial aid, like me) can get. On the other hand, if you're a grader, you can't really get that many hours a week, so I suppose it evens out? I don't really know all that much about this though.

  7. Pomona is planning to cut $500,000 from their $2.3 million student wages, primarily by capping available hours:


    Work-Study Budget to Be Cut at Pomona

    Written by Jenny McCartney
    Thursday, 16 April 2009 19:24

    As a part of the recent slew of budget cuts, students not on work-study will receive a smaller allotment of money they can earn and students on work-study will not be able to apply for increases in allotment. Currently, $2.3 million are spent on student wages. The administration is attempting to cut $500,000 from that total value. Various departments and campus offices are beginning to examine whether certain positions should be cut."

  8. First of all, AYC, do you really think some of these jobs being cut, what, $0.20-$0.50 an hour (at most cutting $10 a week if you're working ~20 hours) is going to suddenly make it impossible to pay tuition? I'm by no means insensitive to financial hardship, I just think your outrage is misdirected towards HR.

    Second, it doesn't seem like anyone actually reads through anything before complaining. Jobs in Category III include ones that are "hard to fill", so no matter how simple one may think being a "Phonathon Caller", etc., is, it's not like every Swattie on campus is signing up, like they would for, say, game room attendee.

    HR held two dinner meetings for StuCo employees who their change would effect most, because of the other changes to the time sheets and the elimination of the stipend system. They presented us with both of these lists and we engaged in a very receptive, open dialogue about whether or not some of these jobs deserve the cuts they are getting. A lot of the changes were found to be reasonable, however we did bring up a lot of issues that HR, knowing only what the job descriptions provide about on campus jobs, may not have factored in to their decision-making process.

    Thus, I'd like to propose the following: if any Swattie has any gripes about the choices HR made (and really feels the need to fight for the $0.25 an hour), send them a (kind) email clearly delineating your argument against their decision. I assure you that they will be both receptive and appreciative in helping them make their job easier and more in touch with the actual student body.

  9. I appreciate HR's effort to 'define' student employment at Swarthmore. I agree that there are flaws in the current system of pay categories. However, I do not think HR should decide which jobs goes into which category. I think we should leave this to the employers.

    Honestly, is there a big difference between getting $8.75 and $8.25 (a pay cut from the current year), given the diverse kinds of jobs on campus? While I understand that different jobs have different tasks, I still believe that jobs should be payed according to the skills that requires, rather than the actual amount of work. In the 'real world', you would most likely be paid for the qualifications that you have, not the actual amount of hard work that you do. Otherwise, why would so many people want to pursue advanced degrees in college or graduate studies?

    That said, I think that the difference between the 3 categories should be further diverse to reflect the different skills, qualifications required. There is only 50 cents different between category 1 and 3. This is no good incentive for qualified students to perform jobs which they are otherwise good at or have to go through strict selections for, like language tutors, graders, tour guides, van drivers etc. Why would I go through the whole application process of being a tour guide or a WA if I can get paid the same working in the game room or the library? The range in pay at Williams is from $8 to $9.50, at Middlebury it is $8.10 to $9.90, while at Yale it is about $11.50 (library assistant) to $20 (computer programmer and music teacher).

    I ask for more transparency in any changes to student employment, that HR leave the employers to decide how much they pay instead of fixing wages, and diversify the pay ranges.

    -Michael X '11

  10. Aha, stage techies have not been cut. Huzzah.

    The school needs more Yeomen, incidentally, to accept payment of raw beef. I'd hit that. Also someone to tend the secret herd of goats in the Crum. Who tends to our goats now, eh?

  11. Thanks for all the comments – I'm reading and absorbing them. As has been said, if HR got the pay category of a particular job wrong, we are happy to hear from you and discuss things. However, we can't leave the pay category to the employer to determine as differences in how various employers interpret the pay categories is how we ended up with tutors making the same pay as people stuffing envelopes in the first place. When you are only responsible for looking at your own job, it is impossible to ensure it is in equitable relationship with the whole system, which is part of what we are trying to achieve.

    Melanie Young – HR

  12. From an email that Melanie Young just sent out:

    "The most important change is that the system by which you submit your time in order to be paid will be automated."

    Hmm, really? The most important change isn't that I'll be getting paid less? I'm fortunate that I took my job so that I could pay for things I wanted without relying on my family, and as it is the pay just barely makes it worth my time. I doubt I'll keep it up next semester, because it pays a pittance. To study rather than work for one hour is to get more than $8.20 (that's pre-tax!) out of my education. Fortunately, I don't have the same pressing financial concerns as some fellow student workers. In these difficult economic times, money is tight not only for the college, but also for many families. What about the student whose family counts on his work-study income to help pay tuition? Well now, you might say, that student can just apply for a higher paying job as a SAM or a WA! Oh, wait, those application deadlines have passed. Unless you count local parents looking for babysitters (changing diapers, playing peek-a-boo, and pushing a stroller looks awesome on a résumé! just ask women who have taken time off from careers to rear their offspring!), the College is just about the only employer of students. The jobs that will be the highest paying (RA, WA, SAM, TA) are jobs that many privileged students take to gain valuable experience or put on résumés, and those in charge of hiring for such positions cannot and should not give preference to work-study students. Unfortunately, now the jobs that give hiring preference to work-study students will be the lowest paying, and fewer privileged students will bother taking them. The unfortunate result will be students who are financially disadvantaged and must take a job, any job, likely one working for the College, in order to pay the tuition bills, will be disproportionately filling the lowest pay scale jobs. Many will work more hours to compensate for their lower hourly wage. While it is true that many Swarthmore students involved in clubs, groups, and teams have extracurricular time commitments that leave them with fewer hours for academic pursuits, this is by choice. Students for whom money is tight will pick up that extra shift instead of spending more time preparing for that test tomorrow because if they can't make ends meet Laura Talbot over in the Financial Aid Office will generously offer to write them a recommendation for their transfer application to a state school. Hey, remember last semester when everyone used to give a damn about financial aid policy before it got depressing and uncomfortable and the College pretended to listen to students' concerns and then changed nothing? That was fun! But I digress…

    We're all making tough calls in these difficult economic times. I hope Melanie Young and everyone else involved in this decision-making process realize that they will be responsible for putting financially disadvantaged students at an academic disadvantage.

  13. " “There are a couple of jobs that went up, and there are a couple of jobs that went down,” Young said. “I don’t think it’ll have an overall big effect. There weren’t that many jobs changed to be lower paying.” "

    The documents acquired by the Gazette show that 65 jobs had their pay cut, and 4 jobs had their pay increased. I can see 4 being interpreted as "a couple of jobs," but 65? SIXTY-FIVE?? I'm not going to be euphemistic–that seems like a lie. I suspect that at the time of this quote, Ms. Young was not aware that the Gazette had gotten a complete list of the changes, and she was trying to downplay the issue. Since Ms. Young of HR is posting on the Gazette herself, hopefully she'll respond. Right now, as a student, I don't feel I can trust Ms. Young to look out for me in any way if she's not even honest with student reporters.

    In general, I get the concerns that there were jobs in the same category that could justifiably be paid different amounts. But snatching money AWAY from student workers, is that really the best solution? 8.80 to 8.20 is a 7% cut in pay. That's enough for student workers to feel, trust me. Couldn't we increase the pay of high-skilled jobs (which would help equity) and compensate by cutting the cost of something else hugely expensive by a tiny fraction? I know times are tough, but here I don't think that's enough of an excuse. There must be plenty of budget alternatives here, alternatives that don't seem to have been considered. I think students can reasonably demand a full inquiry into what other possibilities exist.

    StuCo Employee says that HR presented the cuts and said, "what do you think?" but that doesn't sound to me like a conversation that actually solicited student input. Instead it sounds like "Hey students, we're going to cut your pay, do you want to say anything about it, which we may or may not really listen to?" That's very different from "Hey students, there's this issue of equity in pay categories, especially category III, any ideas?"

    I'm very frustrated by this lack of conversation, and by the apparent deception of Ms. Young.

    "Students for whom money is tight will pick up that extra shift instead of spending more time preparing for that test tomorrow because if they can't make ends meet Laura Talbot over in the Financial Aid Office will generously offer to write them a recommendation for their transfer application to a state school."


  14. StuCo Employee-
    I, and I'm sure many of my fellow student employees, will be contacting HR and other necessary branches of the college. However, this does not mean that I do not have the right to share my opinion in the public forum that is the Daily Gazette. Perhaps if this were truly a fair and open process, StuCo employees would not be so incredibly hostile and defensive.
    I do not know if you have had any experience with a minimum wage job before, but labor unions fight for things like $.25 an hour all the time. A pay cut is a pay cut, and nearly every single job was reduced.
    I disagree with the shift in pay grade. Has waiting tables in Paces somehow become less time consuming, physically demanding, or more fun? Does lugging speakers around for Rattech now come equipped with jet packs so it's easier?
    Students depend on campus jobs as part of their financial aid package. Don't give me this crap about "well you'd make less in the real world". I would make a lot more waiting tables in the real world first of all, and second, you know as well as I do that it is impossible between the lack of parking permits and the extreme demands of this school to get a job in the "real world".
    This is a really unfortunate decision made by the college, and I think that both HR and StuCo are going to have to be patient and receptive to the massive backlash of the student body.

  15. Also, this passage…
    "The proposal was given to the Daily Gazette by an individual involved in hiring student employees, who requested anonymity due to concerns about their own employment at the College."
    …suggests that this was not nearly as "open" a process as Ms. Young or StuCo would have us believe. My guess is that the hopes were that this would already be water under the bridge by the time these numbers were released, and that Ms. Young's statements were deliberately misleading. Obviously, I was not personally privy to any of these meetings, but the way this article is structured certainly makes it seem as though HR wanted student employees kept in the dark.

  16. StuCo Employee, if you believe that the process has been fair, why don't you use your full name?

    I suspect HR was planning on quietly making the changes over the summer, and then when students returned in the fall this would be the nearly impossible to change status quo.

  17. Wait, I just realized that "Summer Circ. Assistant III" for McCabe library is given only category 2 pay scale. Good luck finding someone to shelve thousands of books on daily basis (even worse if it's 8hrs, talking from my experience)

  18. To those of you who are angry about my characterization of the changes in wage categories as minimal, I heartily apologize. It was not very sensitive and really doesn't even express my whole sentiment. Even a 25 cent/hour decrease adds up to $40 or $50 over a semester and that's nothing to sneeze at. And although fewer than 10% of student workers will be affected, for those students, the issue is painful. BTW, less than 70 of the 236 or so student jobs in which about 1000 students are employed are affected, so it's not true that nearly every job was reduced. It's important that we get the facts correct.

    But my poorly chosen words do not mean I am trying to be deliberately misleading or deceptive. Actually it's quite the opposite, or I wouldn't be on this blog and I wouldn't have had several meetings with students. Please remember that the article that was written was the product of a rushed 10 minute conversation and I imagine that if we all sat down and listened to one another with open minds, some of the accusations and willingness to see me and these changes as inappropriate would be tempered. I never refused to share our work product, as was reported, and if you knew me and my background you would know that I am as concerned with inclusion and transparency as are all of you.

    Some of the anger expressed here is about the wage scale itself, not the relative difference in what jobs pay, and over that I have no control. My task was to remedy the complaints from students about inequity. I wish I knew a way to do that without impacting any individual, but would it be better to continue to let students stuffing envelopes be paid the same as a lifeguard? BTW, there are lots of category 3 jobs that are still being selected for next year – the deadline has not passed for those jobs as has been suggested.

    So let's try and bring this dialogue into the light and assume good intention.

  19. Melanie,

    My concerns are two fold:

    (a) While on paper jobs might not be changing, one of the implicit alterations to the system is that people should purely be paid by hour. It was a common (though, I realize, illegal) practice to pay students more hours than they actually worked. This means that while the pay scale might not change for many jobs, the actual number of hours paid does change. I suspect that, for many students, the change will represent a lot more than $40-50 a semester. And these jobs are not going to experience a big wage bump to replace the decreased number of hours

    (b) Going into this process, all of the administration people I've spoken to (outside of HR) suggested that this change would do what you've done *and* dramatically expand the pay-scale. For example, you have decided to move ITS employees to tier II, for an hourly wage of $8.25. I find this a bit ridiculous when similar employees at many (possibly even most) schools get *DOUBLE* that pay. So if you want to make jobs pay based on the work, that is fantastic … but the current scale can't do that.

    In short, these changes were necessary—I understand that the regulations of FLSA and other labor/accounting laws pushed this on the school—but it doesn't really seem to actually address the main issue with jobs here.

  20. There are several jobs on campus that could easily be done by students that currently aren't:
    Sharples: swiper-in person and servers
    Tarble: swiper-in person
    Students could also easily work at the two coffee bars.
    Of course there's the issue with firing people, which is never fun. But opening these up would allow a bunch more students to be employed. It would also probably save the school a lot of money.
    Also, if I'm not mistaken we're currently using an outside hunchback to man the bell tower. Couldn't that be done by a student?

  21. A,

    As far as I can tell, some of the servers and "swipers" at Sharples are people with disabilities from the community. Disabled adults are some of the most disadvantaged and underemployed people in our society. Sure, students can easily take over many of the jobs at Sharples, and can probably do them faster, but to give students these jobs would, to me, represent Swarthmore's giving up the opportunity to display a sense of responsibility towards people who have a critical need for the job experience and training they receive at Sharples. I understand that you may have been speaking of other Sharples employees, such as local high school students, whose need for a job might be matched by our students', but I do think it's important to think about ALL of the people employed at Sharples.

  22. Alright, but what about the vast majority of the employees who aren't disabled? And those at Tarble and the coffee bars? It would be in the college's, and more importantly, the students' interests to have these positions filled by students. I think now more than ever it's important to give jobs to students wherever we can.

  23. I guess jobs in the Athletics department are hard to fill, because they seem to be the only jobs whose pay scale was increased.

    Also, I love all the current Tarble/Coffee Bar employees. Fuck that.

  24. I guess it just means us unskilled financial aid students need to work extra hours to make their work-study money. A little extra stress never hurt anyone.

  25. If the college needs to cut its budget, the first thing to do is look line-by-line for cuts. This means tightening up on purchases, getting bids from competing vendors for supplies, and cutting back on redundancy. Each department needs to be asked to cut, for example, 7-10% from its budget.

    Cutting wages of the lowest paid workers, such as students, is absolutely the WRONG way to go. The cuts need to start at the top, so the new president has her salary cut 7-10%, as does Al Bloom, whose pension could also be cut 7-10%. The other employees of the college who are in the top 20-50% of pay grade need to voluntarily or involuntarily take a 7-10% pay cut. Then see where the budget is.
    But to cut the lowest paid workers, who by the way, are the most important stakeholders, the students, is in my opinion, indefensible.

    By the way, students, this is one reason unions were begun. Because this type of exploitation of low paid workers is what management loves to do, and they expect you to roll over and accept it. You should NOT have to work more hours to earn the same low wage. Let the college cut elsewhere. Interesting they publicized these pay cuts AFTER the parents and specs left campus.

    A word to the college: this is bad PR and you are exploiting students by lowering wages. Lower the administration's wages, not the student's.
    In these tough economic times, Laura Talbot and the administration need to be doing everything to help students stay in, not make it more difficult for them to afford college. This is also the time for students who had aid cut next year and can't afford to come back to Swat to go public, NOT after they have transferred to SUNY due to financial need.

    And Laura Talbot needs to take a 7-10% pay cut, as a gesture of good will towards students. All of these pay cuts at the top will soon add up to the amount they cut in student wages, and your student wages can remain the same, or be adjusted up by 10-20%. That is the negotiating point that I would recommend starting with.

    And I would recommend appointing student representatives and negotiating with the administration. We did this in the '60s and '70s, you can too! (And we did get results, at least where I attended.) Don't just accept a wage cut!

  26. I think that they don't hire student workers in sharples and tarble for a couple reasons. The first is the fair wages to the community thing(esp. disabled persons). The second is that students would probably be much less strict about dining service restrictions than staff people, i.e., not charging students without meal plans.

  27. I need to reiterate this in case you guys didn't realize that I was being serious: we do in fact need/will eventually need a school goatherd.

  28. I think that Swatties are perfectly capable of (A) adhering to the rules of a job, such as swiping people in and (B) finding time to do a job if they are hired for one.
    Also, this would be a major relief for the college financially, because student workers do not demand health care benefits, nor would they be paid the $14-$16 hours that Sharples workers and EVS workers are currently paid.
    I am currently emailing with Melanie Young about a town hall style meeting for all students so that StuCo and HR can try and justify to us face to face why certain jobs decreased in pay. The possibility of getting a campus job is listed as "financial aid" in students' financial aid awards. And the amount listed is at the highest pay grade with the maximum amount of hours. Swarthmore either needs to stop manipulating the fin aid numbers to rope in students or ensure that their numbers can actually realistically be achieved.
    Also, I think that this economic downturn and Swat's method of dealing with it through cutting student pay has presented a need for a student labor union of sorts.If anyone is involved in SLAP or wants to be involved with this process, please email me at

  29. "Some of the anger expressed here is about the wage scale itself, not the relative difference in what jobs pay, and over that I have no control. My task was to remedy the complaints from students about inequity. I wish I knew a way to do that without impacting any individual, but would it be better to continue to let students stuffing envelopes be paid the same as a lifeguard?"

    That's a quote from Ms. Young, whose continued participation I appreciate, despite my frustration with what she is saying. Ms. Young, I do not feel you've answered some of my main questions.

    You keep implying that your plan to cut pay through recategorization is the only option to address inequality in work-complexity within category III. I think it's pretty clear that there are other alternatives, most of which would involve the creation of a higher pay category for those especially complicated student jobs.

    My questions are these:
    (1)Were other options considered?
    (2)If so, what were they, and why were they not chosen?
    (3)Why were students apparently not consulted in the consideration of these other options?

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