Wage increase sparks funding discussion

With the beginning of the new year, some Missouri residents will be getting a pay raise.

On Jan. 1, Missouri will become one of 28 states with a higher minimum wage than the federal level of $5.15. On Jan. 19 the Missouri Southern Board of Governors will discuss funding for the increase.

The increase will create an estimated $84,000 gap in the student help budget for the spring 2007 semester, and school administrators face decisions on how to find funding to support the increase or to decrease the number of student help work hours. There are no plans for downsizing the number of student help employees.

University officials said plans for funding student employment are complicated because of the two types of student employment that will be affected by the change: work study and student help. Work study students are awarded funds due to financial need, and the money comes from a federal grant. Student help employees are paid through the departments they work for.

While some student jobs will not be affected by the increase, they are in the minority. Almost all work study or student help employees are paid minimum wage. Others, with special technical skills, are paid more but few reach the new requirements.

Debbie Dutch Kelly, Southern’s director of human resources, points out the $5.15 to $6.50 jump is a 26 percent increase and since the University’s fiscal year began in July, it is an unplanned expense.

“Additional resources will have to come from somewhere,” Kelly said, “in order to allow the same number of students to work the same numbers of hours that they have been working at $5.15 per hour.

But where will the money come from?

The Board will receive a recommendation during its January meeting, but until that plan is discussed University officials do not want to comment on it.

Some students are excited about the increase in pay.

“I’m glad it’s going up,” said OuenJaniese Cason, sophomore criminal justice major, “It will give students a little more money in their pockets.”

Cason said working on campus is convenient, but she plans to look for off-campus work next semester, hoping to find a better paying job.

“$5.15 is not cutting it,” Cason said. “Basically it’s like working for free – just about.”

Amber Hall, freshman English major, works as student help in the Spiva Library. She thinks the increase is not fair to people who make $7.50 since she will get a raise and they will not. But for herself, Hall said the pay increase is “kind of nice, that’s how much I was making at my other job.”

“Your rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act,” reads a poster just inside the student employment office. “Federal Minimum Wage, $5.15 per hour beginning September 1, 1997.”

But the federal mandate is now replaced with a state minimum wage.

Linda Sadler, student employment and scholarship coordinator, balances finding jobs for students on campus as well as at off-campus locations. Sadler describes minimum wage as outdated and said very few minimum wage jobs exist, even most fast food employment starts at $6 per hour. She cites the convenience of weekends off and the flexible schedules as the big draws of the student help positions and work study programs.

Sadler estimates there are 230-250 student help employees on campus and about 120 additional students involved in the work study program.

Sadler said a typical work-study award might be $3500 for a year or $1750 per 16 week semester.

At $5.15, Sadler explained, a student would be paid $103 for 20 hours, but under the new minimum wage students could conceivably run out of work-study funds. Earning $6.50 an hour a student working only 16 hours would make $104 a week which is, essentially, what the standard award would allow.

If students in the work study program exceed their awards, further hours would be classified as student help and the department they are employed by would be expected to foot the bill.

But Sadler is also concerned about the effect on more than just student jobs, but for businesses and prices from suppliers.

“It will not take long to feel the ripple effect.” Sadler said of the amount. “$1.35 is a big jump.”

Historically, minimum wage hikes have been incremental, 50 cents or less. One Joplin business has already cut its intern program and while Sadler is not sure if the cuts reflect on the new wages, she is concerned about other programs.

Since work study is a limited award, Sadler cautions students on the program against expecting 20 hours at the new minimum wage rate.

Her advice to work study students is to plan on fewer hours. She does not know what the Board will decide – to fund student help or to decrease their hours as well.

“We’ll just keep going at the status quo,” Sadler said, “until we find out different.”

Scottie Parker, junior elementary education major, works in the library. Parker said some people are excited just because they get a pay raise but he is concerned about the way the increase will affect the economy.

“It’s okay getting a raise,” Parker said. “But I know it is going to effect people getting certain hours.”

The library is one of the largest consumers of student employment. Out of 26 student workers there, 22 are student help and four are work study

“We are open more hours than any other building on campus.” said Wendy McGrane, director of library services. The library faculty are concerned about maintaining the same level of funding. The services they provide depend on it. McGrane is optimistic that board will reach an “agreeable resolution.”

Dr. Terri Agee, vice president for business affairs, looks forward to the January meeting and says student help “Provides an excellent service for the campus.” She is optimistic about the board’s decision.

“We value the contribution made by all our student workers,” Agee said.

The Learning Center also employs a large number of students. Eillen Godsey, director of the Learning Center, says the number of student hours fluctuates depending the need and what the student helper does. “We have students who work as few as three and as many as 18 hours per week.” Godsey said.

Some function as tutors, lab assistants, note takers, and office help.

“You never know,” Godsey said about the amount of help needed. “It’s new every semester.”

The services provided by the Learning Center are federally mandated and Godsey is committed to upholding the current level of service.

“We will continue to provide services no matter what,” Godsey said.

But for students being paid better for fewer hours that sounds just fine.

Joseph Poindexter, sophomore computer information sciences major, plans a busy spring semester and is not concerned about a decrease in hours worked.

“It’s not a big bite out of their budget,” Poindexter said, indicating his status as work study. He would rather see a health insurance initiative but welcomes the increase in pay.

“Getting paid more to work less,” Poindexter said, “is a good thing.”