Oakland University student employees are not paid enough

The push for a $15 minimum wage is predicated on the data that shows corporate profits have steadily risen over the course of the last decade, while the federal minimum wage has remained unchanged since 2009. Here at Oakland University, we benefit from a slightly higher minimum wage than $7.25 an hour, with Michigan’s minimum wage at $9.45 an hour. Even so, I know of so many fellow students who work hard on Oakland’s campus but are unable to make enough to live on their own without significant economic support.

The issue of student wages is certainly a complicated one, and before I even begin to list my issues and solutions for student employment, I want it to be clear that there is no single correct answer to this problem. 

That being said, here are a couple of things that I have seen and experienced working at OU. The biggest issue is that the vast majority of undergraduate employment hovers between the minimum wage and the magical $15 an hour, but I have never had a starting wage above $10 an hour while working at OU. Coworkers of mine have voiced the same concerns, even seniors who have seen little to no pay increases after working for their entire undergraduate careers.

So, not only do most students begin with low wages, they also see little reason to exert themselves without a way to get a substantial raise. I will grant that nearly all places give opportunities for student development as a part of their work, especially University Recreation and Well-Being, where I work. They offer payment for many classes and seminars as a requirement for working at the Rec, which should definitely factor into how students are paid.

All of this in mind, it seems strange to me that OU knows it has a problem with on-campus culture with such a large commuter population. It would make the most sense to me that better working wages for students working on Oakland grounds would promote more involvement with campus culture. 

There’s also the issue that, while giving undergraduates the opportunity for personal development at their places of employment is a fantastic gesture, those skills unfortunately do not pay for tuition, books or board. 

As for solutions to underpaid undergrads, the way forward is foggy. Different students get paid through different organizations, for example, while the Office for Student Involvement may be in charge of allocating funds to the student newspaper, the library staff find themselves answering to a completely different budget. There is no single grant or budget increase that would lead to all students receiving more money every paycheck. 

That being said, I believe there are ample reasons to have a conversation about increasing student wages. I, myself hope to start by talking to my student government representatives to see if there is any way I might make a difference myself. For any of you who are similarly moved, visit The Oakland Post website and tell me your experiences with working on campus. With so many people and groups that I don’t have a chance to interact with, I’m sure I haven’t seen the whole picture.

I am not expecting the op-ed at the back of the weekly newspaper to change how wage laws work at OU overnight, not by any stretch of the imagination. But I hope that at the very least I’ve started conversations about how we can make Oakland University a better place for students and staff to work comfortably.