On-Campus Jobs Bring Perks and Drawbacks

By Jennifer Earl, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Patrolling the dorm hallways on his weekly night shift, Kevin Sparks receives a phone call from a student asking him to clean up vomit.

The request is common for Sparks, a 19-year-old University of Iowa sophomore and resident assistant at Quadrangle Residence Hall.

"I've had to clean up human feces before. That's probably the worst part of this job," he said.

Sparks is one of about 18,000 students on the state's payroll. The state salary database, released Thursday by Iowa's Department of Administrative Services, includes employees at Iowa's public universities and the schools for the deaf and blind, which make up two-thirds of the list.

University of Iowa

Last year, 8,517 students held part-time positions at the UI. Cindy Seyfer, director of student employment, said that number hasn't been growing in recent years.

"It depends on how many years back you want to look at," she said. "There's some ebbs and flows there, but I would say in the last 10 years we've seen a reduction — not in a huge way — in the number of students who are employed on campus."

Seyfer said the loss of state funding for the UI work-study program, which employed 1,430 students last year, and changes in technology could be among the reasons for the decrease.

Under Iowa law, student workers can't put in more than 20 hours per week. Combine that with restrictions from the university and a lack of available positions, and students are beginning to look elsewhere for work.

Results from the UI's computer advertising system show that over time, the number of on-campus jobs being advertised has decreased and off-campus options have become more common.

Sparks said the perks of being a resident assistant include free room and board, a weekly 20-meal plan, 200 flex dollars — funds that may be used at the laundry services, at select vending machines in residence halls and at most campus food service locations — and a $5,000 stipend.

"It's a great opportunity," he said. "I've grown a lot in the job — it's a really well paid job."

But even a resident assistant position, one of the best paid part-time jobs on campus, has its disadvantages. According to the UI housing policy, resident assistants aren't allowed to have another job during the school year.

As a pre-pharmacy major, Sparks was hoping to find an internship as a pharmacy technician but was unable to apply because of that rule.

"There weren't any unpaid internships," he said. "The experience of that I lost out on."

University of Northern Iowa

At the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, the roughly 3,900 student workers find it hard to make much of a profit. They work only 10 to 12 hours per week on average, with an hourly wage of $8.27.

"We're at minimum wage, at the low end," said Tim Bakula, associate director of financial aid. "The thing working against (students) is the number of departments willing or able to hire due to budget restraints."

The university has lost about $24 million to state budget cuts in recent years, and last year alone it faced a $5 million deficit. UNI President Ben Allen said he wants to restructure the university budget to strengthen it for the future.

In fact, budget restraints have led university officials to examine students on the higher end of the pay spectrum. If a department pays a student worker more than $15 an hour, it must tell the financial aid office why.

"Those departments need to report to us to the rationale because (more money) may create conflict with other merit or full-time opportunities on campus," Bakula said.

Iowa State University

Unlike at the UI and UNI, Iowa State University officials said their numbers have slightly increased within the past year.

ISU News Service Director Annette Hacker said the annual employee head count, which is done in October, shows that 203 more students are predicted to have part-time jobs this year than in 2011. That year, 5,379 students had part-time jobs through the university.

Officials did not release any information regarding the average hours or wages of these students. Data available from the financial aid office suggests in 2010 the average hourly wage for students was $8.87.

Although on-campus jobs have their disadvantages, officials agreed that they're still beneficial.

"These jobs are a lot of value to working beyond the paycheck," Seyfer said. "Students are learning and students are saying this is making a significant difference."
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