Swarthmore Should Pay Students More

Student Worker on September 10, 2018 on the campus of Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, PA. (Photo by Emma Ricci-De Lucca ’21)

On Aug. 9th, Swarthmore College Dean of Admissions Jim Bock, sent out an email to the student body informing us that they are no longer paying students to host prospective and accepted applicants. In the email, he detailed that instead of getting an hour of pay per prospective student hosted, Swarthmore students will now be compensated in the form of a “one-of-a-kind hoodie.” This change prompted many students and student workers, including myself, to look into the issue of student employment on campus, comparing our situation with those of our closest competitors. The conclusion I arrived at is that this school can and therefore should increase wage rates for student workers.

This school has a nearly 2 billion dollar endowment and is in the top 10 colleges for endowment per student in the country, yet our student workers receive considerably less pay than those at comparable institutions.

At Swat, there are three student employment payroll rates for the 2018-2019 academic year ranging from $9.70/h to $10.40/h. Williams College has 11 different classifications for various undergraduate on campus jobs. The wages rates for these positions range from $11.00/h to $15.00/h.  The fact that the highest pay rate at Swat is 60 cents less per hour than the lowest at one of our closest competitors for America’s top liberal arts institution is inexcusable, especially considering the fact that Swarthmore’s endowment per student ratio is nearly $7,000 greater than that of Williams.

Other colleges and universities in the top 10 for endowment per student include Amherst College, whose undergraduate pay grades range from $11.00/hour to $12.50/hour, Stanford with $13.95/hour to $19.75/hour, Harvard with $11.00/hour to $20.00/hour, and MIT at $11.50/hour.  

Disparities in student pay can also be found just across the Tri-co. Although Haverford only pays their student workers between $9.00 and $9.75/hour, Bryn Mawr, with their 797.1 million dollar endowment, is able to set their pay grades at $10.00/hour to $10.75/hour.

It goes without saying that our institution’s new policy of not paying hosts, along with our embarrassingly low pay grades, disproportionately impacts low-income students and students enrolled in work-study programs where holding a job is a condition of their ability to study at Swat.

With our institution’s wages for student workers already lagging behind those of our competitors, the decision to stop paying hosts caused students to mobilize and ignited a movement to protect the exploitation of student workers. In response to Dean of Admission Jim Bock’s email, student workers Jissel Becerra ’20, Gilbert Orbea  ’19, Amorina Pearce ’19, and Will Marchese ’20 came together and formed a union titled United Undergraduate Workers of Swarthmore.̕̕̕̕̕̕

UUWS first gained momentum through their Facebook page, where they publish powerful videos and posts telling stories of different students with jobs on campus. Here, students have written and spoken about anything from egregious pay to the number of jobs they had to hold in order to remain at this school. The group had its first organizational meeting on September 8th.

According to their recently launched website, UUWS was founded on the principle that “Swarthmore College has been complicit in underpaying and mistreating undergraduate workers for too long.” The site also underscores the fact that this fight for fair treatment of student workers is not at all new. They reference the “rich history of labor activism” on campus and underscore that although “Swarthmore College can afford to pay us what we deserve and treat us with respect…time after time, the college has deliberately chosen not to.”

For a college that claims to foster a welcoming environment for students coming from families of all income brackets and financial situations, the college reverts on this promise by underpaying student workers and decreasing the likelihood that students graduate with minimal debt.

In an email sent to the student body from hosting@swarthmore.edu, “One of Swarthmore’s strongest values is that of equal access to resources.” These wage rates and policies are detrimental to the realization of this promise. These numbers, publically available on the school’s student employment webpage, could also impact the decisions of prospective students who know they will have to work during their time at Swat.

Swarthmore, if you are going to stop paying hosts, the least you can do is take that money and increase the student employment wage rates so that Swatties who relied on that source of income will benefit from it elsewhere. Don’t replace monetary compensation with free sweatshirts. Swat students deserve to get paid.

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