Editorial: Young, broke and capped at 20 hours a week, student workers struggle to get by

By Daily Egyptian Editorial Board

We’ve all heard the “struggling college student” trope and jokes about ramen noodles, but for SIU students, it’s not a joke.

At SIU, students with on campus jobs are capped at 20 hours per week during the school year. This policy is meant to ensure students remain focused on school but it actually forces more students to get off-campus jobs and work more inconvenient hours to pay their bills. 

Working 20 hours a week at minimum wage is not enough to pay for most students’ living expenses or tuition.

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Chloe Schobert | @chloscho_art2020

SIUC’s work week limit is more stringent now than it used to be. Student hours were previously capped at 29.5 hours until former Chancellor Rita Cheng made the cut in May 2014.

At $9.25 an hour, before taxes, for 20 hours, students are not making enough to cover rent/housing, tuition, books, food and hygiene products. 

Tuition is $9,638, fees are $5,266, estimated costs for books and supplies are $1,100 and room/board is approximately $10,622 according to SIU’s estimated costs for the 2020-2021 school year.

This is a total of $26,626 and does not include groceries or other living expenses.

If an SIU student were to work on campus at the current minimum wage for 20 hours a week for 36 weeks they would make $6,660 before taxes.

This is less than a third of the amount needed to pay for tuition. 

(See more: Undergraduate Budget)

Students who work over 20 hours a week will not get paid for their time or will be penalized for clocking over 20. If a student works multiple on-campus jobs, they cannot exceed 20 combined hours at both of the jobs, according to student employment policies.

Students with two on-campus jobs must be meticulous in tracking hours at both jobs to make sure they don’t go over.

Those who clock more than 20 hours will receive a warning on first occurrence and be automatically terminated on second occurrence, according to the student employment handbook.

This gives students an uncomfortable choice: work extra hours in order to get the job done without pay, request payment and get fired, or get a second job off campus. 

On-campus student employment offers benefits off-campus jobs don’t have by accommodating class schedules and allowing students to work odd hours between classes. 

They are conveniently located, so students without means of transportation still have the opportunity to make money. These jobs also give students the opportunity to gain experience in the field they are studying and allow them to network with professionals. 

If SIU’s reasoning behind the 20 hour cap is to keep students focused on their studies, they need a new policy. The limit does more harm than good and forces lower income students to resort to off campus jobs and more hours.

Students are adults. They have bills to pay, responsibilities to attend to and sometimes children. They can control their own hours and don’t need the administration to do it for them.

If SIU is trying to present student employment as an enticing option to students, they need to change this policy.

(See more: Cap cut: What nine and a half hours means to student workers)

Many campus departments that hire student workers are struggling to find interested students due to declining enrollment. Positions being limited to 20 hours a week doesn’t help. The university is shooting itself in the foot with this policy. 

If SIU doesn’t do something to make on-campus positions more enticing to students and do it soon, campus is going to become severely understaffed and the university as a whole is going to suffer. We should be trying to make our campus stronger, not killing it with inaction and arbitrary restraints. 

The Daily Egyptian’s Editorial Board can be reached at 1-618-536-3329, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @dailyegyptian.

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