Principia College currently employees 299 students in 508 jobs, according to the Human Resources department. Over half of all students balance work, academics and extracurricular activities.
As an institution, Principia manages not only the financial aspect of student employment, but it seeks to provide the means for happy and productive work environments as well. However, many students remain dissatisfied with their jobs.
Years ago, student employees were paid varying rates determined by their job or department. Currently, all student employees, regardless of their position or seniority, are paid the Illinois minimum wage of $8.25 per hour. Student managers in the pub and dining room are selected by their supervisors and have a slight income advantage of $8.75 per hour.
Students interviewed raised a number of concerns regarding the structure of their employment. A major issue is the lack of compensation for students who must have special certification for their jobs. For example, lifeguards must be Red Cross certified in lifeguarding and CPR. The cost of receiving lifeguarding certification ranges from $100 to $300 depending on the instructor and location. Principia does not provide a stipend for those acquiring certification.
Kristen Harrison, head of student employment, a division of Human Resources, commented that there were talks last year regarding a higher rate for students with certifications, but the wage has not been changed.
Junior Cassidy Orth-Moore, who works as a lifeguard, said, “We’re responsible for people’s lives. I do not feel like I’m paid enough for the high-risk job I have. I feel that if a job as has so much liability surrounding it, lifeguards should be paid more. I think it’s absurd that we’re paid the same amount as someone with a low- to no-liability job.”
The Crafton Natatorium receives many members from outside the Principia community, including children’s swim teams. This is an added risk for lifeguards.
Harrison shed some light on the current streamlined pay rate system. “All student jobs are considered to be entry-level, temporary and part-time. While some jobs require more skills and some even require certification, every job that students perform on campus is vital and makes a tremendous difference to how efficiently and effectively Principia is able to perform her mission. The administration didn’t want to assign greater value to one job over another, nor put students in the position of choosing a job based on the pay rate.”
While most of Principia’s student jobs are not high-liability jobs, there remain many concerns surrounding employment in other departments.
Some student managers say they do not feel adequately compensated for their responsibilities. For example, Pub managers have weekly meetings with supervisors, more shifts without a full-time employee present and additional duties while working.
Sophomore Caroline Morales, a student manager in the Pub, said, “I think it would be fair to pay dining service managers more than we currently receive. Pub and Dining Services managers are entrusted with a lot of responsibility. As just a standard worker, I think we are paid a sufficient amount for the work we are doing.”
However, being a manager, she said, “has been a good experience. I feel like I am gaining a lot of leadership and people skills.”
Some argue that the skills student workers gain from their jobs, such as leadership, independence and trustworthiness, are more valuable than monetary compensation. Business professor Wes Powell, who teaches the Management course, said, “The key benefit of being a student employee is job experience. How do I work with others? How do I work successfully on a team? How do I lead? If [students] look at the job as an educational experience, taking both good and bad situations as an opportunity to learn, they will be able to apply this knowledge in the job market.”
Last fall, the Business Operations class conducted a study of the Pub that tested the effectiveness of Pub workers, managers and menu items using the widely-accepted Six Sigma method, created by Motorola in 1986 as “a robust business improvement methodology that focuses an organization on customer requirements, process alignment, analytical rigor and timely execution,” according to its website.
Currently, the Pub loses money each month due to cost of food and employees as well as the wage increase for student managers. But the students found a way to make the Pub profitable.
One of the suggestions made by the class was to pay managers $10 per hour, a $1.75 increase. This would help retain managers in order to avoid the quick turnaround that results from low pay and a lot of work.
The final report stated, “We also evaluated the idea of incentivizing good workers to become Pub Managers. Unfortunately the position only has a 50 cent-per-hour pay increase and students do not want to take on the responsibility while making only marginally more. By increasing a student manager’s salary to $10 an hour, it is only increasing the weekly labor cost by $90 a week while ensuring high-quality and motivated managers.”
The Operations class presented its findings to the managers of Dining Services in the fall of 2013. However, none of the suggestions were implemented.
Studies have shown that job satisfaction is largely tied to the quality of the employee-supervisor relationship. A strong, supportive relationship means that an employee will feel happy going to work and enjoy being there. “Full-time employees are very grateful for the student workers,” Harrison said.
The Principia administration has a variety of channels that are designed to improve the work atmosphere for students. Although these services are not meant to handle finances, a collective effort could boost student employment morale and productivity without breaking anyone’s bank.