Colleges should honor wage hikes

By Editorial Board

The issue of increasing the minimum wage has sparked nationwide debate. As more states pass referendums to raise the minimum wage, some universities struggle to compensate for the necessary increases.

This issue is prevalent for some Michigan colleges after a referendum was passed in May mandating that the minimum wage increase slightly each year until 2018, when it reaches $9.25 an hour, according to a May 27 press release from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s office. As a result, some university officials have said there may be a decline in on-campus employment opportunities for its students.

For example, the executive vice president of Administration and Business Affairs at Saginaw Valley State University in southeastern Michigan voiced concerns that there would be fewer on-campus jobs because the wage increase will cost the college $760,000 annually and the institution continues to suffer from declining enrollment, according to a June 30 article by the college’s student-run publication, The Valley Vanguard.

It is not right for universities in states with increasing minimum wages to reduce on-campus employment opportunities for students because the colleges claim they cannot afford the added financial burden.

Taking into account the crippling cost of college tuition, there is no excuse for colleges to cut costs from student employment first. Most college students rely on part-time jobs as a source of income. According to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau, 52 percent of the nation’s 19.7 million undergraduate students were employed part-time and 20 percent were employed full-time. Instead of cheating students out of much-needed jobs, colleges should consider decreasing the pay of top university officials. According to a 2013 analysis by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the presidents of 42 different private colleges made more than $1 million in one year. The highest earning president was Robert Zimmer at the University of Chicago, with $3.35 million in total compensation for 2011.

College presidents should consider voluntarily taking a pay cut. Interim President of Kentucky State University Raymond Burse famously did just this in August after he gave up $90,000 of his $349,869 yearly salary to increase 24 university employees’ wages to $10.25 an hour, a $3 increase, according to an Aug. 1 Herald–Leader report.

Other highly paid university officials should follow Burse’s lead and use the added funds to offer tuition cuts, especially considering the financial difficulty some institutions may face with legally mandated wage increases.

It has also been widely acknowledged that minimum wage jobs, even at full-time, do not amount to livable wages and college students are the most reliant demographic upon the minimum wage. People ages 16–24 make up 50.4 percent of the country’s population employed by minimum wage jobs, according to a Sept. 8 analysis by the Pew Research Center. It is only fair that students benefit from an increase in their wages.

Colleges should respect the need for wage increases. By cutting jobs for students, universities are not understanding the reliance on income during of their college years. College administrators should reflect on this matter and consider making some cuts so pay is fair for everyone.