Student salaries in the UA System continue to fall lower than state minimum wage

Since 2011, the University of Alaska’s student salary schedule has not changed. According to an April 2016 article for Alaska Dispatch News, 482 student workers have made less than state minimum wage.

The minimum wage for the State of Alaska was increased in Jan. 2017 from $9.75 an hour to $9.80, according to the Division of Labor Standards and Safety. With these recent minimum wage increases within the state, students that work for the University of Alaska are further from earning the state’s minimum wage.

Student pay scales for the University of Alaska are split into three levels. The first level is student assistant A, which starts at $8.50 an hour, student assistant B starts at $9.50 and student assistant C starts at $10.50 an hour. Student assistant C is the only level paid above the state minimum wage.

Each student assistant level can go to the next “step” on the scale, which is a raise of 25 cents after working a year in the same position.

Although student workers are able to advance their pay with time, there are often times when they are promoted to another position and are still unable to reach minimum wage.

“It was actually hard for me to move up positions, I worked for my job for three years before being offered a manager position,” said Sarah Haley, pre-nursing major, culinary and business major and manager of the Hugh McPeck Gallery. “With 25 cent raises we get every summer, what I had made matched the pay I was going to get as a manager.”

The actual work a student does for a particular job determines the level at which the student will be paid.

“More complex jobs are student level C, less complex jobs are student level A, so it’s based upon the complexity of the duties that are called upon for the particular job,” said Ron Kamahele, Human Resource Services director at UAA.

Although student assistant A and B positions offer less than the state’s minimum wage, the pay is higher than the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour.

“Our pay scale pays more than federal minimum wage, and the state of Alaska sets different minimum wage, which is higher than federal. The University actually does not have to comply with the state minimum wage,” Kamahele said. “We can decide to do so and we have not.”

Photo credit: Jian Bautista

The Alaska Division of Labor and Safety exempts the University of Alaska from the state minimum wage, which means that the university is able to decide student wages. The University of Alaska is the only system in the state where the exemption is being used, according to Alaska Dispatch News. The question is whether or not this exemption should be used for student workers.

“I think salary schedules need to meet minimum wage requirements mandated by the state, exemption or not,” said Kojin Tranberg, Commuter Programs coordinator. “I would hope we see student A positions at the minimum wage requirement of $9.80 with subsequent dollar increases for each other class of student labor. For example, student B positions at $10.80 and student C positions at $11.80.”

Students working on campus during the school semester may only work 20 hours a week, which makes them eligible for being exempt from income tax.

“Whereas someone working outside of the University, if they’re making even state minimum wage, they get taxes taken out and so they are making even less but the federal tax code allows educational institutions to have student employees to exempt them from that tax,” Kamahele said.

With many jobs under state minimum wage, some students have to work two jobs to make ends meet.

“I have to work two jobs to pay all of my expenses and I still find myself living paycheck to paycheck working 20 plus hours a week. It’s hard to work two jobs and attend school and barely make it by. I haven’t been able to get my textbooks for this semester yet,” Haley said.

According to the Living Wage Calculator, a tool created by MIT, the living wage for one adult in Anchorage is $12.55 an hour. While the state minimum is far from that, student wages are even lower.

“I believe every student on campus deserves an increase in pay,” Haley said. “Even with no taxes taken out, you can only work 20 hours a week, which isn’t much when you’re getting less than the cost to live in Alaska. The cost of living keeps increasing and we aren’t matching it in pay.”

Despite the student wages on campus, there is an emphasis on flexibility when it comes to students working on campus pursuing a full-time class schedule.

“Whenever a department hires student employees they know from the get-go that the students need flexibility with their work schedules and they do so students get that flexibility,” Kamahele said. “So that’s a really nice benefit because we are sensitive to making sure students can continue to pursue their education and that’s what we’re all about.”

There are many positives to working on campus including professional experience, networking connections and the ability to take on leadership.

“I love my job, I have gained great experience from it, and I am very passionate about the gallery I help run. My hours are flexible, my supervisors are amazing, they are extremely supportive and understanding,” Haley said.

With the changes in the state minimum wage, there are hopes to change the University of Alaska’s student wages accordingly.

“I think the University can move in confidence to meet basic minimum wage requirements without the specter of having to revisit a salary schedule update for some time,” Tranberg said. “However, as the State institutes minimum wage increases, I would hope the University makes it a priority to meet these new increases in an expedient fashion.”

To raise the pay for students falling under minimum wage to $9.75, it would cost the University $163,904, according to Tara Ferguson, director of classification and compensation for the UA system.