The availability and quality of student employment on campus is an issue of contention among students and staff. While it’s good that UNCG offers jobs to students, they are too often limited to students with work study and dispense wages barely higher than the minimum.
This is bad for students and the university. Due to increasing budget cuts, work study programs are taking hits. This means students have less money to give back into the university’s highly-localized economy. There are ways to fix this, even as the federal government cuts away relentlessly at public universities.
Firstly, the salaries of college presidents—or, in our case, chancellors—at public universities have been steadily rising for years now. According to a study by the University of Massachusetts, the median total salary for leaders of public colleges has risen to $431,000 per year. This is more than the president of the United States.
Chancellor Gilliam is raking in a comfortable $375,000 per year, slightly under the national average, but still $56,000 more than our previous chancellor. When students are often having to borrow money just to go to college, and work multiple jobs to get by, this is disgraceful.
The first way to make a campus economy that works to benefit everyone is to cut the salary of the chancellor – and do so considerably. The leader of the university should make no more than $150,000 per year, but, ideally, should be making $50,000 – $100,000.
With the money leftover from the chancellor cuts, new jobs could be created on campus, and existing jobs could start to pay a reasonable wage, but this is not nearly enough. Creating work and paying appropriate wages is expensive. More money will have to come from other places.
This would come from the creation and promotion of student-run small businesses. If UNCG raised the wages for campus jobs, this would create a beneficial cycle in which students worked on campus and made enough money to spend their money on campus, rather than having to go elsewhere to chase cheaper prices. This would put more money in the hands of the university and the students.
Another way would be to draft a separate policing force, in conjunction with the campus police, that was entirely made up of student hires. This would create many more jobs for students, and enrich the student community on campus, leading to a richer campus economy as well.
All of these efforts would pave the way to building a highly localized campus economy that invests in the community of students and staff, and would pay back in spades, but only if students made enough to spend.
Currently, the starting wage for student workers at the Digital Media Commons is $7.60 per hour, with few available hours to work each week. This forces students to leave the university to find work at other establishments, while still not making enough to amass a significant disposable income.
If student wages rose to a living wage, students would have money to spend, and if students could get everything they needed on campus, they would spend it there.
The options should run the gamut, from bakeries to hardware stores to technical repairs. The opening of student-run businesses on campus should be encouraged, and UNCG would be wise to invest in such a cause.
This could open the door for professors as well, getting much of their goods on campus, and contributing more, still, to this new campus economy.
To make this all work, however, the university would need to clearly prioritize these new student businesses over imported campus eateries, such as Papa John’s and Pizza Hut.
The prices of these establishments on campus are already fairly steep, so this should not need too much meddling, but it would certainly help if the university placed its capital more behind the students than it did for outside businesses.
When it comes to creating a local economy that benefits students, it’s clear that job availability is just the tip of the iceberg. The whole system needs to be redrawn, but it’s not impossible. With a campus economy like the one illustrated in this article, all of those involved would benefit; we would provide a good example for other institutions to look toward and emulate.