Raising the stakes

By Gus Bode

Students returning this fall may come back to campus unemployed.

With thousands of student employees set to earn a state-imposed raise in about one week, something has got to give.

For SIUC, a harsh reality must be faced – either eliminate a portion of student jobs, which could send thousands of students to the unemployment line, or allocate the money from elsewhere to compensate for an estimated $180,000 per month university departments will cough up for student payroll.

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When the increase is distributed to the roughly 2,500 student workers at SIUC, it equates to an additional $1.2 million needed annually to front the wage raise.

The minimum wage – which will see its second increase in four years – will raise a dollar per hour from $6.50 to $7.50 starting July 1. Additional increases of 25 cents will come for the next three years until the minimum wage tops off at $8.25 per hour in July 2010.

Projects at the university such as library construction, classroom revamping and hiring new professors could take a back seat in order to locate money to pay students, said Richard Grabowski, the chair for the Department of Economics at SIUC.

He said the increase could put the university in a sticky situation.

“They are making labor more expensive,” Grabowski said. “Either resources devoted to instruction has to go down or the quality goes down or we hire fewer students.”

Student employers such as the Student Center, the Student Recreation Center, University Housing and the SIU Department of Financial Aid must all find ways to adjust their budgets.

Lori Stettler, director of the Student Center, said actions have already been put in place in preparation for the wage spike.

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“We are not planning on cutting any student positions in any way and that is the way it has to be because the building has to be open, has to be staffed and has to be cleaned,” Stettler said.

“We are re-allocating funds internally in order to make sure that we do not cut student positions.”

Additionally, the marketing coordinator position for the Student Center, which was left vacant after the spring semester, will no longer be filled. The position’s salary will be dispersed and applied toward student payroll.

Stettler said the Student Center is in a unique position because of the nature of the building. Being understaffed would significantly hurt its ability to serve students.

“We have to continue on with business as usual. For us, [cutting student jobs] is really not an option,” she said.

Job security is something the Rec Center can’t promise its employees.

A recent shuffle in administration left Sally Wright, interim director at the Rec Center, a bit hazy on where the minimum wage increase might hurt most.

“I don’t know exactly where the cut might hit,” Wright said. “It could hit at equipment replacement that will take place down the road or it could hit with a reduction in the actual number [of students] we employ.”

Craig Sercye, a junior studying advertising and marketing, said while he expected to some job cuts, his future employment remains a concern.

The raise may be a blessing for some, but an end of employment for others.

“Yeah, [losing my job] is something that I am worried about,” Sercye said. “We knew it was going to happen, though. You can’t just expect to hike up the minimum wage and not lose any jobs.”

Wright also mentioned the possibility of cutting the number of programs offered to students in order to make room for the budget climb.

But the Rec Center has other means of income. Membership and rental fees can help alleviate the impact of the minimum wage increase. The Office of Financial Aid, however, is solely supported by state funding.

Donna Williams, associate director of Financial Aid, said she must find other ways to scale back costs because her office hasn’t been given additional money to work with during the increase.

“But we probably will have to cut some [student] hours because we haven’t been given the dollars to cover the increase,” Williams said. “You always have students that leave in May and don’t come back in the fall so we may just not replace those positions.”

But the increase will also create a dilemma for returning student workers.

“The state says we have to do [minimum wage increase] but we don’t have the money to do it,” he said. “Unless the state of Illinois comes up and says, ‘here is the money to do it’ with, then there is going to be a shift in resources. A loss of jobs is a likely prospect.”

Brian Feldt can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 258 or at [email protected]

Daily Egyptian

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