Editorial: We need a living wage for students

For many students, working on campus is a necessity. Students rely on campus jobs to cover the costs of student life, including tuition, fees, textbook costs, food and personal expenses. Tufts is long overdue in raising the student minimum wage. The wage for Tufts students is set at the current Massachusetts minimum wage, which is $12 an hour. This isn’t enough.

While Tufts remains stagnant in implementing change, other universities, both public and private, have surged ahead, raising their student minimum wages to at least $15 an hour. According to data collected by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), public universities including the University of Washington and those in the University of California system adopted policies in 2015 to raise their student minimum wages to $15 an hour after student workers expressed concerns about wages being too low to meet even their basic needs. In 2016, private universities such as New York’s Columbia University and New York University followed suit. Even Tufts’ very own Medical Center adopted a policy to raise minimum wage for all employees to $15.12 an hour in January 2016. Further, Tufts offered to pay dining workers $15 an hour as a minimum in a proposed wage agreement, though intransigence on other issues by the university has provoked a strike vote. Students who do the same type of work as dining workers as well as other campus jobs deserve the same hourly rate that Tufts offered its dining workers.

Providing fair wages for student workers grows more urgent each semester, as costs continuously rise for students. Tufts increased tuition an estimated 3.76 percent from last year’s tuition, for a sticker price of $70,941 for the 2018–2019 academic year. This is the equivalent of two years and 10 months of full-time work at minimum wage. While financial aid offsets this, students, especially upperclassmen, still need to pay for books, rent, food and utilities.

According to the College Board, for the 2018–2019 academic year, students are spending at least $1,240-$1,440 on books and supplies. Combine the cost of books with rising rent, as more and more students are forced into Medford-Somerville due to limited on-campus housing, and you have a recipe for academic poverty. According to a recent survey conducted by the Daily, the majority (68 percent) of student respondents living in off-campus housing are paying between $800 and $899 per month for rent, with some (8 percent) paying over $1,000 per month. $12 an hour isn’t enough to cover these expenses. Student workers are allowed to work just 20  hours per week, meaning most will earn at most $960 a month, leaving students living off campus with between $60 and $160 for clothing, books, food and activities. Increasing the wage to $15 an hour leaves a student worker with $300 to $400 a month for those expenses — still a small sum, but far better than a $2-per-day monthly food budget. 

In an attempt to cover these soaring costs, students are under more pressure to find jobs on campus, as well as off campus to make up for the meager pay and low hours on campus work offers. But spending more time working only takes time away from studying, participating in extracurriculars and getting involved in the community. A low minimum wage spreads students thin, putting unnecessary strain on our academic and social lives as well. This, in turn, increases alienation and social division.

Tufts needs to raise the minimum wage for student workers to $15 an hour. This raise would ease the burden on working-class students, materially improve the lives of many and give working students a chance to dedicate more time to academic and social pursuits. We should follow peer institutions in paying all workers, students and otherwise, a living wage.