By Casey Gale
In November 2013, New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment that increased the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour. It was put into effect at the start of the new year. In order to accommodate this hourly rate increase, Rider is cutting down on the number of work hours available to students this semester.
According to an email sent from the office of disbursements to faculty and staff, the university raised the 2013 student employment budget to more than $3.6 million. However, because of the school’s financial state and a cap on federal work-study funds, officials say Rider is unable to allow students to earn the higher hourly rate and maintain the same number of hours as last semester. Departments have been asked to reduce student hours to fit into existing budgets.
Other private universities in the area are facing the same situation.
“As a result of New Jersey’s minimum wage hike, Fairleigh Dickinson University gave all its student workers (including Federal Work Study students) a $1.00/hour raise, boosting their hourly rates significantly above the new minimum wage,” said university spokesman for Fairleigh Dickinson Dan Landau.
“The university did not make an across-the-board decision about cutting hours, instead leaving it up to the individual departments on how to handle the wage increase. Money for student workers comes out of the employing departments’ budgets and it is up to the respective departments to decide whether to cut the hours or find additional money elsewhere.”
Aimee Parks, assistant director of Human Resources at Monmouth University, gave a similar explanation.
“We are still within budget and may need to consider cutting hours if necessary,” she said.
TCNJ, a state school, has not had to resort to cutting hours and has found funds elsewhere to raise wages for students, according to Debra Kelly, director of career services. Though the college had made no decisions for next year, “the goal is to do no harm,” she said regarding school employment.
State Sen. Shirley Turner, associate director of Career Services, has an explanation for the reduction of student hours at Rider this semester. Officials say maintaining current hours would cost an additional $270,000, which is less than 1% of Rider’s budget.
“The university’s budget was prepared in advance of the minimum wage increase, which makes it impossible to adjust for higher hourly rates,” she said. “I hope that students will have the opportunity in the next fiscal year to earn more if additional funds are allotted for student employment.”
However, Julie Karns, vice president of the finance and treasurer, said that the university intends to maintain current funding levels “to the fall and beyond.”
Turner was co-primary sponsor of the referendum to raise minimum wage, with Sen. Stephen Sweeney, after Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the initial bill to raise minimum wage to $8.50 in 2013.
“Many times, legislation that is signed into law has unintended consequences, and this is one of those instances,” Turner said. “Businesses, government, and colleges and universities, families and students, have budgets to balance and we all look at a law from a different perspective. Fortunately, this is a temporary consequence of well-intentioned legislation.”
Rider officials said the change in hours this semester will have no net impact on student employees, as they will be earning the same amount of money as last semester, but working fewer hours. Frank Zuccarini, tour guide coordinator, said that this change is nothing new.
“In the Admissions Office we have adjusted student employee hours, but this is something that we review and adjust for each semester,” he said.
Although hours have been cut to match how much work the department anticipates this semester, there will still be times when students will be working until 5 p.m. and later, according to Zuccarini.
“We expect that students in the Admissions Office will have plenty of opportunities to work in our office this semester,” he said.
According to Assistant Director of Disbursements Sherri Skuse, Rider employs roughly 1,200 students. Students employed by Aramark have not been impacted by the reduced hours, according to Scott Oswald, the director of Aramark Dining Services.
Some students do not appear to be too concerned about the schedule changes. Samantha Breccia, a junior radio and TV major, works at both the Bart Luedeke Center information desk and at Admissions. Her hours have been cut in both positions. She notes that more workers and managers have been hired at the information desk, which she feels could be another reason for the cut hours.
“I’m not really bothered by it,” she said, as she is balancing an already busy schedule.
Other students, however, have a different take on the situation.
“I feel as though what they did is pointless,” said Emily Lucarelli, a senior English major. “I feel as though certain [employees] may get cheated out of this. But I know people who are constantly on the go and working hard for more than 20 hours – those are the people who will be most affected by this decrease.”
Rep. Rush Holt, who represents Lawrenceville in Congress, said that the intent of raising the minimum wage is to increase workers’ income.
“Raising the minimum wage is one way to return to broad-based economic growth that isn’t just concentrated in the wealthiest 1% of the population,” he wrote in an email.
Turner said that in order for the university to focus more operating funds on student employment in the future, state government would need to invest more in students who are working their way through college. Rider’s federal work-study aid is capped at $541,000.
“The state has not been paying its fair share in supporting higher education in New Jersey, and the state should also make a greater commitment to help keep the costs of higher education down, thereby, reducing reliance as heavily on tuition for operating costs,” Turner said. “Rider University has private school tuition rates and receives little direct aid from the state or federal government. Ideally, students should receive the increase. However, if the state or federal governments do not provide more in the form of aid, ultimately the financial burden will fall on students through higher tuition to make up for the increase. If the legislature had heard from the colleges, some exceptions for the effective date could have been made.”