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Tuition Rises While Wages Stagnate

For the 2018-2019 academic year, Haverford set its cost of attendance at an all-time high of $70,994. Year after year, this price tag has been increasing beyond the yearly inflation rate, and students are frequently left wondering where, exactly, all that money is going.[1] Much of it is, indeed, going to support the attendance of fellow students, as we can see with our all-time high average (not median) financial aid grant of $50,101. Whether these numbers themselves are just is a matter for a different article, and one which has been written many times over. Instead, I want to turn the focus to an infrequently reported number: $9/hour, the base pay for most student employment at Haverford.

A perennial concern for Haverford students, particularly those on financial aid, is working enough hours per week to cover both personal expenses and work-study expectations. The default option is applying to student jobs at the College. They are plentiful, offer flexible hours, and are available for many sorts of skill-sets. With the exception of the Dining Center, which offers a higher pay rate,  all jobs at Haverford offer the same $9 per hour starting wage for everyone and guarantee a raise of 25 cents for each year of continued employment in the same position. When we look at the cost of attendance ($70,994) and average college grant ($50,101) together, we have to keep in mind the options for covering that differential of $20,893 per year. Even working at $9/hour full-time for an entire year would not cover this.[2] Nor would $9.75/hour, the wage seniors might make if they held a particular job for all four years. And yet, we’re expected to have work study somehow make a meaningful contribution to the cost of attendance.  

I’m sure many of us have heard baby boomers talking about paying their way through college through summer work and part-time jobs throughout the school year. When we look at our financial aid forms and see a few thousand dollars as an earning expectation with tens of thousands still to cover… well, that very same sort of employment starts to seem a bit impotent. There’s a case here that student wages are not doing the job they need to be doing. With tuition increasing by thousands each year, the value of that $9/hour baseline wage is just bound to diminish even further.

This brings me to the question of how long our wages have already been dropping in real value. While no official record is publicly available for this data, archived documents show that the last base wage increase was a $0.25 raise midway through the ‘07-’08 academic year, bringing us from $8.75 to the current standard of $9.00.[3] In that same stretch from 2008-2018, the cost of attendance has increased from $46,270 to its current $70,994.[4] That’s a $24,724 increase, or about 53 percent. The average need-based grant has also seen more than a proportional increase, up from $27,643 to $50,101 (about 55%).[5] However, there has also been a creep in the difference between the average grant and the full cost of attendance: from $18,627 to $20,893, or $2,266. This increase, about 12%, comes out to an extra 252 hours of work at $9 an hour, or around 232.5 hours for $9.75 an hour.

Clearly, the societal ideal of paying your way through college hasn’t been realistic for a while, but it’s getting further and further away. In Forbes Magazine, Camilo Maldonado writes that the price of college, from 1989 to present, has been increasing nearly eight times faster than median wages.[6] For Haverford, the real value of our student wages has actually decreased over the past eleven years as  the wage rate has gone literally unchanged. If we don’t solve this decline in wages now, the problem is only going to become worse in coming years.

Individual short-term fixes aren’t enough. We can be told to work more, find a higher-paying off-campus job (many places in Ardmore start at $11/hour), take out more loans, or have parents pay more. Obviously, none of these are ideal solutions, or even possible for many. Off-campus jobs are not nearly so flexible with hours, loans are expensive and difficult to repay without the promise of employment or disposable income, and plenty of parents are stretched thin enough as it stands. We, too, between classes, extracurricular commitments, and the heavy work schedules that many of us already have, are stretched thin enough. The college needs student employment to function, but it is also not giving enough back to students to help us cover its astronomical tuition, nor anything else, through this employment. As far as labor goes, we deserve better – and we need better.


[1] Inflation is currently hovering around 2% per year. Cost of attendance increases are recorded by the Office of Institutional Research, viewable here: https://www.haverford.edu/sites/default/files/Office/President/Student-Charges_2017-18.pdf

[2] “Full-time” for a year here is defined as 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year.

[3] Compare October ’07 to January ’08 versions of the student pay schedule here: https://web.archive.org/web/20071016201029/http://www.haverford.edu/business/forms/studpay.html

[4] See link in [1] again.

[5] https://www.haverford.edu/sites/default/files/Office/President/CDS2007_2008.pdf

[6] https://www.forbes.com/sites/camilomaldonado/2018/07/24/price-of-college-increasing-almost-8-times-faster-than-wages/#64d34ffc66c1