Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Boston University needs to raise wages for its employees

American colleges are notorious for leaving students with stacks of debt once they graduate. Far too many students have to rely on Federal Student Aid and work a part-time job to afford higher education.

With a tuition of nearly $60,000 and rising, Boston University ranks among the 50 most expensive U.S. colleges. This doesn’t include room, board, service fees and laundry — though BU’s Young Democratic Socialists of America club is petitioning for the latter to be removed from the long list of expenses.

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

Especially considering the extensive economic repercussions of the pandemic, the University needs to raise the minimum wage for all campus jobs.

The University’s pay rates for campus jobs are determined by the employer, with the minimum set according to state law. In Massachusetts, the minimum wage was recently raised from $12.75 to $13.50 an hour.

Even an increase of less than two dollars to $15 an hour could make a difference to students who juggle work and school.

For on-campus work-study students — who are already at an increased financial need — it would mean punching in less hours to complete their award. For international students who may not qualify for financial aid and sometimes legally aren’t allowed to work off campus, raising the minimum wage is all the more important because many traditional avenues for financial support are closed to them.

Overall, the raise would free up more time for students who need a part-time job, allowing them to focus on the studies they came to Boston for.

The impact of raising minimum wages extends beyond just students — it would also help non-student employees who hold on-campus minimum wage jobs. The cost of living in Boston is 48 percent higher than the national average, and the city’s rent is one of the highest in the country. Even making rent near Boston would be difficult on a current minimum wage salary.

But, the truth is this: it’s hard to determine how much of the University’s $2.3 billion endowment is allocated to campus jobs versus professor and administrative positions.

Is it within the University’s capacity to raise these wages at all? Or would raising wages result in fewer job opportunities, at a time when the pandemic has already shut down so many in-person positions?

Because donors may explicitly give funds for a specific cause or project, only a small percentage of the $2.3 billion is actually earmarked for the operating budget. However, staff costs all fall within the operating budget — which is partly funded by our student tuition — and should therefore be both liquid and adjustable.

BU spent $925 million on salaries and wages in 2019, 46 percent of its total operating expenses, according to its fiscal report. For an institution with over 10,000 faculty and staff, the wage expense averages out to around $90,000 per employee. 

Of course, these averages don’t reflect the reality of salary distribution. Part-time lecturers and minimum wage, full-time workers were paid less than $30,000 a year in 2019, or less than one-third of the employee average.

Regardless of whether or not it is financially feasible for BU to increase the salaries of its least-paid employees — student, non-student and faculty — if the University wanted to do so, they could. Budgets can be rearranged, and it all comes down to the school’s priorities.

And of late, the University seems to prioritize inviting and protecting controversial political figures such as Ben Shapiro — whose hours-long presence on campus students actively protested against and whose security expenses were likely covered by the operating budget — over the well-being of its staff.

It’s clear raising the minimum wage on campus — and paying instructors a fairer wage before they’re forced to quit — would be a worthy cause. Certainly, it would be more worthy than paying the security detail, which cost nearly $13,000, for a hate-filled speech.

Not only would a raise give non-student staff a basic, livable wage, but it would also reduce students’ financial stress.

The majority of college students worry about their finances. These constant concerns about tuition, housing, monthly expenses, textbook fees, debt and loans or scholarships are detrimental to academic performance and mental and physical well-being.

After almost a year of living under pandemic restrictions, experiencing a record drop in employment and witnessing an increase in mental health problems as a result, a minimum wage raise to $15 an hour, or higher, is more crucial now than ever before.

Plus, it feels good to be properly recognized and compensated fairly for your work. By committing to a livable wage, BU would also set a proper precedent for universities nationwide — a win-win for all parties involved.

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