Temple University students spend thousands of dollars on their education, but they earn low wages through student worker positions that can’t cover living expenses in North Philadelphia.
Student worker jobs are generally hourly positions funded by individual departments on campus. The rates for these jobs vary across the university, but students can expect to earn around $12 per hour.
As tuition and the cost of living in North Philadelphia soar, Temple has a responsibility to ensure students can support themselves. Higher salaries for students are essential, as stagnant salaries amid national inflation are not enough for students to meet living expenses. On January 31, Pennsylvania raised the minimum wage for Commonwealth employees to $15 an hour, so Temple University must pay that rate to its students.
Temple last year raised tuition by 2.5% to $16,488 for in-state students and $29,712 for out-of-state students and hopes to raise them again at the same rate for the 2022-23 academic year, according to the university’s budget request for the 2022-23 fiscal year.
“If they want to raise tuition, they should also be able to raise our hourly wages,” said Biana Poliakov, a young bioengineering student who was earning just $9 an hour as a mentor by the peers in leadership and career studies.
Twenty-five percent of main campus students live in North Philadelphia on or near campus where rent is $952 and other living expenses are estimated at over $1,000 per month. As inflation persists, these costs increase and the inability of students to support themselves will become a bigger problem.
Some student worker jobs pay as little as $7.25 an hour, which is not considered a living wage. Temple recommends that students work 20 hours a week, but a minimum-wage job would only equate to a gross salary of $580 a month. With this income, the average student would not be able to afford basic living expenses of almost $2,000 per month if they lived on or near the main campus.
There’s no way anyone could live here on minimum wage, said Rhiannon Jerch, an assistant professor of economics.
“It’s part of the university’s mission to create an environment where people can come here and get a good education, but also afford to live here while they do it,” Jerch said.
Between April 2021 and April 2022, citywide rent increased by 8.5%, and now the Greater Philadelphia area faces an inflation rate of 8.4%, the highest rate in 40 years, driving up the price of all of life’s expenses, according to The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, a nonprofit economic research organization.
“Temple needs to support and accommodate its students as the cost of living rises, tuition costs rise, and the cost of bread at the grocery store rises,” said Ellie Labriola, a biology and neuroscience student. “It’s just basic human decency.”
Labriola works as a lab prep student at the Biology and Life Sciences Building where she earns $12 an hour. She considers her salary quite high, which she thinks is a sad reality.
She paid her monthly expenses with her savings, but her student-worker income would not have been enough on its own. However, not all students can afford to rely on savings
“Temple is a truly unique school in that we have an incredibly diverse student body, but that also means we must welcome students from all socio-economic backgrounds and give them the opportunity to support themselves while they are in school,” says Labriola.
Some employers support Temple raising student worker wages because they don’t have the department funding to raise the rates themselves.
“If I could pay our student workers at the Klein Career Center $15 an hour or more, I absolutely would,” Lu Ann Cahn, director of career services at the Klein College of Media and Communication, wrote in an e-mail. email to The Temple News. “Their work is invaluable to our mission. Unfortunately, we have budget constraints that limit hourly wages.
Temple should prioritize student needs when evaluating budget constraints. According to a May 2021 report from the Hope Center, nearly one in four four-year-old college students in Greater Philadelphia suffer from food insecurity. Additionally, food-insecure students were more than 40% less likely to graduate from college, according to a July 2021 study by Public Health Nutrition, a Cambridge University Press review. Raising salaries could help food-insecure students have enough money to buy nutritious food, improving their chances of graduating.
Some students believe that Temple’s promotion of student work opportunities is misleading because students often need to find additional off-campus jobs to pay for living expenses.
“They’re advocating that we have student positions, but they always leave out the fact that you can’t make a living from it,” said Sinh Taylor, a gender, sexuality and women’s studies major.
Taylor balanced her position as a senior CLA ambassador with tuition, an internship, and working as a full-time video game repair technician to support herself and her child. Working only as a hard-working student would absolutely not have been enough to live on, they said.
Students should worry about their tuition, not whether they will be able to afford next month’s rent, as financial insecurity hampers student academic success. Without Temple’s intervention to create a minimum wage of at least $15 for student workers, this will continue to be the reality for many students.