Students Struggle to Secure On-Campus Employment

11 mins read

When Vincent Vagnozzi, a supervisor at the college post office, sent out an email to the student body saying that the office was seeking student workers for several open positions, he was shocked to receive over fifty responses for the two positions in under an hour.

As the fall semester gets underway, students and administration alike are turning their attention to the issue of on-campus student employment. For many new and returning students, the prospect of finding employment on campus is of critical importance; as last year’s Campus Climate Self-Study revealed, 30 percent of students rely on campus employment in order to pay for their Swarthmore education, and many more depend on on-campus employment for personal spending money that cannot be provided by a parent or guardian.

Even with the stakes so high, many students find the process of finding and securing a job on campus to be both highly competitive and exceptionally difficult to navigate. Richelle Robinson ’20 explained that her efforts to obtain an on-campus job at the start of the semester were continually frustrating.

“I went to the job fair and got on several email lists, but some of them never emailed me, and the ones that did [only] emailed to say all the positions had been filled. I also went to the LPAC kickoff, applied for a regular position there, and was rejected. I was also rejected for several other jobs.”

Robinson is part of the federal work-study program, and a contribution from her on-campus job is therefore required as part of her financial aid package from the college. After several weeks of applying to jobs, on campus without being hired, Robinson eventually reached out to a family off campus for a babysitting position, but she still hasn’t been able to find employment at the college.

Robinson believes that the priority hiring period, in which students on work-study have preference for on-campus jobs during the first two weeks of the semester, was ultimately inadequate as an institutional tool aimed at helping students acquire on-campus jobs, and she didn’t feel as though it was enforced as a policy.

Shayla Smith ’20 was similarly forced to seek employment off-campus after being turned down from three on-campus jobs. Smith also echoed Robinson, saying that the difficulty of finding a job was, in part, due to the fact that the priority hiring period for work-study students, of which she is one, occurs when the anxiety of finding a job is compounded by general feelings of being overwhelmed by a new and challenging college environment.

“Not only was I looking for and applying to campus jobs, but I was also figuring out my schedule for the semester and trying to adjust to living on campus,” said Smith. “I had just moved states away from my family and friends, and I didn’t feel as if I had enough time to do everything. While I appreciate the school giving students like me priority for a certain period of time, I still didn’t feel as if it was long enough.”

Valeria Ochoa, president of the Swarthmore organization for low-income students, says that the issue of finding on-campus jobs when they arrive at Swarthmore is of central concern for low-income students. Ochoa pointed specifically towards the lack of any centralized place for finding opportunities on campus as a major obstacle.

“Not all the jobs were as visible as they could have been. There are so many hidden positions that people only find out about by chance,” Ochoa said.

A master list of jobs on campus does exist on the website of the Student Employment Office, however, it appears to be considerably outdated and does not specify whether the job is currently available or even whether it is still in existence. When Bryton Fett ’18 reached out to a representative from the Black Cultural Center about a job opportunity listed on the master list, she was told that the BCC was, in fact, not hiring for that position this year.

In lieu of a comprehensive master list, students primarily rely on the daily Reserved Students Digest for job openings both on and off campus. However, these listings are not exhaustive, and by the admission of the SEO’s own website, many jobs are not “announced” at all, and depend on word-of-mouth to be disseminated to the student body.

Ochoa says that SOLIS has considered addressing this problem by creating a newsletter that compiles on-campus job opportunities, but she added that such a project may be beyond the capacity of the group at the moment.

Ochoa also flagged the lack of transparency surrounding the application processes of on-campus employers as a potential hurdle for low-income students. They contend that it is unclear to what extent on-campus employers are aware of students’ backgrounds when considering them for employment.

“For many low-income students, the backgrounds that we have are coming from warehouses, or fast-food, or sales, which can’t really be translated that well into positions on campus, so if we have to have a resume for jobs on campus, we don’t seem fit for the position,” said Ochoa.

Student discontent with the current system for on-campus employment is evidenced by the results of the Campus Climate Self-Study conducted last year: “Improving the campus job process” is listed as a “Top Challenge” by the Self-Study Action Committee, among other initiatives such as a renewed commitment to diverse and accessible mental health care and increased opportunities for all-campus gatherings. The report released by the same group includes streamlining the job search process and prioritizing work-study and financial-aid students as one of their medium-to-long-term proposals.

Greg Brown, the college’s vice president for finance and administration, agrees that the process of finding on-campus jobs is in need of reform, and says that the college is already taking steps to improve the system.

“Late last semester, I convened a meeting with individuals from various departments, including the Dean’s Office, Financial Aid, Payroll, ITS, and several departments that are major employers of student workers to review the effectiveness of our current student employment processes.  A primary goal of the review is to assure that we provide greater preference for students with the greatest financial need, while, at the same time, assuring that the employment opportunities be more widely accessible to the entire student body.”

Dina Ginzburg ’18 endured financial losses for two months into her freshman year until she was finally able to secure an on-campus job, and believes that the best way for the college to prioritize the students with the greatest financial need is to simply guarantee that they will receive on-campus jobs.

“If they’re going to factor in $2,000 from your work-study job into your financial aid package, then you should be provided with a job, period, if you are able to perform it,” she said.

Ginzburg suggested that a portion of on-campus jobs that require minimal previous experience and include extensive training, such as library jobs, be reserved for students on work-study.

While it is unclear whether the college will go so far as to set aside jobs for students on financial aid, Brown says that the administration is considering several alterations to the current system in order to better support student workers.

“Our first task is to explore the use of new applicant and position tracking software to simplify the hiring process and provide greater information about job possibilities. In addition, we are looking at other changes in our practices, including the timing of the job fair and the duration of the preference period for hiring in our review process.”

Applicant and position-tracking software for on-campus opportunities is already in use by many of Swarthmore’s peer institutions. Pomona College’s ClaremontConnect, for example, keeps up-to-date listings for on-campus jobs and streamlines the process of applying to those jobs.

Brown says that he and his review team hope to begin making these and other changes to the process in time for the 2017-2018 academic year, but the details of these changes will likely be outlined much sooner.

“We plan to invite students to join us in the conversation this semester, so we can gain their perspective and assure that our proposed process and systems changes meet their needs.”

Brown expects these conversations to occur soon after fall break, amidst a continued call from students for increased visibility, transparency, and guidance in the on-campus employment system.

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