AARON SKUBBY, Editor-in-Chief—A tiered wage structure and a strong partnership with the Knowlton Center are two of the many important changes that Denison administration is looking to make to the student employment system.
At the beginning of the school year, Vice President for Student Development Alex Miller and Knowlton Center Director Melanie Murphy began a process of evaluating how student employment practices could be improved. On February 15, Miller sent out an email highlighting some planned changes.
The changes planned for this semester include a dedicated MyDenison page for student employment, professional development for students and supervisors, and activities for national student employment week on April 12 – 16.
A “competitive and scaled wage structure” is still in the process of being planned over the summer and fall semester, according to Miller’s email. However, Murphy stated in an interview that a tiered wage structure is “100% a commitment.”
The discussion around student employment began at the beginning of last semester. Discussions began around the same time that students at Kenyon College began attempting to organize a union.
Miller says that there was no connection between the situation at Kenyon and Denison’s new initiative. “I actually believe that what we saw in the fall was just us listening to students about their experiences,” he said. “I do know that Kenyon students were organizing, but we were well into our conversations on this topic before I knew about the Kenyon organizing.”
A key component of the changes is that student employment will now be a function of the Knowlton Center, with the aim of providing students with meaningful career skills while employed at Denison.
Murphy explained some of the reasoning behind the decision. “We’re seeing across employers an expectation that students are coming in with significant work experience,” she said. “A lot of students think that means they need to have two-three years worth of internships. Really that experience can be a combination of things.”
Another dimension of the partnership is to ensure that students are getting meaningful skills at their campus jobs. The Knowlton Center plans to work with supervisors to help make jobs more meaningful for students. “We can work really hard to elevate those positions to make sure students are getting those career ready skills that they need to enter the workplace,” she said.
A change in wage structures will take longer than other changes due to the high number of parties involved, as well as the need to create a specific plan, Miller explained. “It’s a university budget conversation, it’s a pay equity conversation, it’s a job description conversation, it is a financial aid conversation. All of those folks and offices would actively be working to respond to this,” he said.
The previous standard pay rate of $9.25 an hour was calculated using federal work study amounts. $9.25 an hour at a rate of 10 hours a week is roughly how much can be covered by work study. However, all Denison students can work regardless of whether they have work study or not, the funding just comes from different sources.
“A tiered wage structure would mean we would look at the amount of training that goes into a position,” Murphy explained. Higher “tier” jobs would be those that require more training and are more involved, and they would pay more than more casual lower tier jobs.
Murphy expressed a recognition that some students prefer jobs that offer more time to do homework and have down time, which would still be available.
A national minimum wage increase was recently voted on in Congress, and such a change would undoubtedly impact Denison student employment. “A minimum wage would affect the budget significantly, and the last thing we would want to have to do is reduce the number of jobs. We still want many students to be able to work on campus,” Murphy said. In such a case, the university may explore other options such as looking for more off-campus work opportunities for students.
Stay tuned for Student Employment Week from April 12 – 16. “Our goal with that week is two parts,” Murphy said. “One, we want to raise awareness of the awesome work that students are doing on campus. We want to make sure that students are recognized for their work, that we’re telling stories about the work being done by student employees. The second is recognizing and celebrating the supervisors of students. We have some awesome staff at Denison who really go above and beyond to support their student employees in so many ways. We’ll have an opportunity for public recognition of those on campus supervisors.”