Column: Commuting student worker supports raising student wages

Allison Bair, Staff Writer

Students who work on Grand Valley State University’s campus generally get paid 33% less than off-campus employees. Considering the short hours and shifts so many of us work while on staff, there seems to be no way to make ends meet while working on campus unless you have an outside source of income. 

I’m going to be extremely transparent about my pay as well because I believe keeping how much you get paid compared to your peers should not be kept a secret.

As a Lanthorn writer, I get roughly $20 per article I put out, considering the word count. This means that for every paycheck, I earn maybe $35 after taxes. This is only if I focus on my weekly arts and entertainment pieces and not the opinion pieces. Needless to say, I don’t make any type of survivable income solely by being a writer for the Lanthorn. Altogether, I barely make enough money to feed myself for two weeks, let alone pay for gas to commute to and from campus.

I put in maybe three to four hours for each article including research, drafting questions, scheduling interviews, recording and listening to the sound bytes from the interview for accurate quotes and then simply writing a draft to later get edited before publication. Breaking that down, saying I get $20 per article and work three to four hours per article, I would be getting about five to seven dollars per hour.

This isn’t far off from a GVSU student worker’s base wage of $9.87 per hour.

Even though college jobs can provide valuable work experience and a little extra money in your pocket, low wages show that the time and effort students put into their jobs are not valued. 

I work a second job for additional income. This is simply working at a grocery store. Stocking shelves, tending to customers, keeping the store presentable – y’know, general retail stuff. I get paid more than $15 per hour to do roughly the same amount of work as I would writing – in my opinion, I work harder as part of the Lanthorn team than I do as a retail employee of nearly 5 years.

I am fully aware of the far-too-broad chart the university uses to gauge pay rates for students. Though it goes by skill, supervision and intensity of the work, the chart leaves too much room for interpretation. What is a “moderately difficult task?” What qualifies “good independent judgment and decision-making ability?” 

I’m no expert on the university’s budget. But as a student, I pay for things like tuition and parking passes and find myself asking where that money goes. If they are so determined to make it so expensive to commuters, they might as well put a good portion of that revenue into raising wages so we can at least break even on the $210 to $240 I had to pay to just park here for one semester.