Daily Egyptian

Cap cut: What nine and a half hours means to student workers

By Ahmad Hicks, @AhicksSports_DE

When going to college, some students dream of moving out of their parents’ homes and into their own apartments.  

In May, 2014, the university reduced the number of hours a student could work at an SIU job from 29.5 hours to 20 hours. That made this dream hard to achieve for those paying for college with no assistance.

Initially the university cited policies relating to the Affordable Care Act as reason for the cap change, but has since sited academic success as reason to keep it. 

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“For some students, student employment is their only income,” said Luther Porter, a senior from Du Quoin studying history and psychology. 

Porter, who works as an operations and maintenance member at the Student Center, said he planned to move out of his parents’ house before the cap was implemented.

Most student employees start out making $8.25 per hour, the state’s minimum wage. Porter said before SIU instated the cap, he made almost $800 a month, which was ideal for his situation.

“When I could work 29.5 hours per week, I had no worries,” Porter said. “I had money to afford books and other needs a college student would have while saving up to move out. That extra nine and a half hours a week really helped.”

The cutback in student hours also means a cut in pay. If a student works the sanctioned 20 hours each week, they make about $600 to $700 a month. 

The cap change diminished Porter’s chance of moving out. The money he earns from student employment is not enough to cover the cost of college expenses.

Porter pays for his cell phone bill, car payment, car insurance and gas to commute to school. If he added rent and groceries to that, his monthly expenses would exceed $700.

He has trouble getting books at the beginning of some semesters because he does not have enough money to pay for them. 

“This semester I have all my books but one,” Porter said. “I’m getting that, next check.” 

For Porter’s former co-worker Anthony Castaneda, who works at the Student Services Building, affording rent, books and food with the 20-hour work cap is nearly impossible.

Castaneda, a senior from Chicago studying video production and sports administration said he has little spending money left after paying for his utility bill, groceries and his half of the $700 per month rent.

Castaneda said the extra $200 a month he made before the cutback covered everything else.

Because of the 20-hour cap, Castaneda had to find another source of income. He now works a second job at Fazoli’s, a restaurant on East Main Street.

Porter said the cost of getting to and from an off-campus job can be troubling. 

“Some students have to rule out an off-campus job because they wont have a ride to work and back,” said Porter, who could not find an off-campus job that fit his school schedule.

Castaneda works both jobs some days, and said doing so is difficult for a full-time student trying to maintain good grades.

“It’s unfair for students because the university is mostly run by students and without students working, the campus would fall apart,” Porter said.

Adrian Miller, the campus’ student representative on the SIU Board of Trustees, said the 20-hour cap made life hard for some students.

“As a student who also has relied heavily on the income from my student worker position, I know what it’s like to have to go and work a second job just to be able to make ends meet,” said Miller, a senior from Carbondale studying political science. 

Miller said he is hopeful the cap will change to 25 hours a week. He said he has brought it up to SIU’s administration several times, but is not seeing any progress. 

“I, like every other student who has to work more than 20 hours a week, know that the current model in place doesn’t work,” Miller said.

Ahmad Hicks can be reached at [email protected]

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