Earnings cap continues to limit student workers

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Overnight visit intern Emma Pond (sophomore), left, and Admission Senior Fellow Justin Ratzan-Wank (senior), right, work in the admission office of Occidental College. Thursday, March 28, 2019. Kathy Ou/The Occidental

As the end of the academic year approaches, departments around campus have continued to limit student workers’ hours so they can remain under the earnings cap of $3,500 per academic year. Robin Hamilton ’08, senior assistant dean of admissions, said the Office of Admission — which currently employs about ten interns, eight senior fellows and 40 tour guides — was informed at the beginning of the spring semester how much money each of their student workers had left before they would reach their cap.

“While I knew that some of my students had additional jobs on campus, I wasn’t totally aware of how much they were working in those other positions,” Hamilton said. “This is the first year where we have really had to pay really close attention to how many hours our students have in the office and to really limit them.”

According to Hamilton, she had conversations with her student workers about how they planned to balance multiple work commitments once she found out how many hours they had available for the rest of the semester.

Senior Assistant Dean of Admission Robin Hamilton ‘08 discusses how pay cap restrictions impact the admissions office and its student interns at Occidental College. Thursday, March 28, 2019. Kathy Ou/The Occidental

“How can we either sort of trim back the work you do here and also how can we look forward and see what’s going to be more important for you to get done here?” Hamilton said. “So, prioritizing a little bit the work that they need to do.”

Hamilton also said one student worker in the admissions office was given an extension to their earnings cap. She said her goal is to not have to extend students above their cap, but there may be more instances in the future where she has to, especially with the senior fellow positions that require more training.

According to Hamilton, student workers in the Office of Admission have become more flexible as a result of the limited hours and sometimes do tasks beyond their specific job description.

“If we saw students that had extra hours available [we made] sure that other staff or other supervisors in the office knew that,” Hamilton said.

Professor Caro Brighouse, associate dean for student academic affairs, has met with people in the the academic affairs office and the financial aid office, as well as administrators Wendy Sternberg, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college, Rob Flot, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, and Amos Himmelstein, vice president and chief operating officer, about the impacts of LA’s rising minimum wage on student labor.

“I think the Occidental article has been helpful in generating awareness of the issue, and awareness of some of the challenges that we face when trying to find a good solution,” Brighouse said via email. “If the amount of money available for student labor does not appreciably change then I believe we as a college have to figure out how to distribute the money in a way that allows us to do with it what we deem to be most important given the College’s Mission.”

Serena Francisco (sophomore) works at the Tiger Cooler at Occidental College. Thursday, Mar. 28, 2019. Kathy Ou/The Occidental

Student services, such as the La Encina yearbook, also employ student workers. According to Allen Li (junior), a La Encina editor, the student workers at La Encina have not had problems with the earnings cap. However, as a student manager, Li’s earnings cap has been extended, as is the case for all student managers.

“[Student managers] are fortunately allowed to exceed the cap as manager positions take a lot of time, but I know not everyone is given that opportunity,” Li said via email.

Hamilton said the Office of Admission faces a unique challenge since the spring — when some student workers reach the earnings cap — is typically a busy time for the office.

“Having a way that we can monitor on a more regular basis how students are working through their cap could be really helpful, and I know it was really helpful even to get it at that semester break to be able to plan and talk with our student workers,” Hamilton said. “Students seem pretty aware of it, which is great as well. They seem to be taking some initiative, or at least the students I work with take initiative, in terms of understanding what funding they have left and how they can manage that.”

Brighouse said there may not be an easy solution to address the earnings cap. Before the end of the semester, she hopes to meet with administrators, and possibly students, to share information and challenges.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to sees the urgency of this problem,” Brighouse said. “Because it’s something that affects so many different parts of the institution, it’s no one person’s problem. I think everyone is eager to try to work together to come up with a way forward.

Multiple editors at The Occidental have had their pay caps increased this semester.