Rutgers University student Mariah Woods acknowledges that she skipped class occasionally in past semesters, but not to party or sleep. She had to work at on-campus jobs, earning $8.44 an hour.
With bills piling up for her apartment, the 22-year-old had to pick up extra shifts to pay for her $650 monthly rent and groceries, and costly, unexpected root canal surgery.
“A lot of us are facing the same struggles,” said Woods, a senior studying labor, who doesn’t work on campus now but used to work in the dining hall and elsewhere. “A lot of my friends aren’t able to pay rent or afford food.”
On Monday, Rutgers president Robert L. Barchi acknowledged those hardships when he announced the school would raise the minimum wage to $11 an hour for student workers. The wage hike will take effect Jan. 1, 2018, and will affect 13,000 students at the university’s three campuses, including those who use Federal Work Study, a program that offers part-time employment to students in financial need.
The increase came after a year-long campaign led by the student group United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), asking the school to pay its student workers $15 an hour. Members of the organization met with professors and administrators to discuss the pay hike.
Rutgers student workers “commit many hours each week to working on our campuses to defray the cost of your education,” Barchi said in a campus-wide email. “While holding an on-campus job can offer many benefits, we are cognizant of the delicate balance that you must strike between work and your studies.”
Some say the wage hike is not enough.
Dozens of students chanting and wielding signs reading “#FightForFifteen” interrupted the school’s Board of Trustees meeting in New Brunswick on Tuesday afternoon asking for a $15 minimum wage for student workers.
Woods pointed to food pantries recently set up at the university’s Camden, New Brunswick, and Newark campuses as proof students are struggling to keep up with the cost of living and rising tuition.
“The living wage is above $11,” she said. “We’re not settling for anything less.”
Other colleges in the area have faced such demands as well.
In 2015, groups at Temple University petitioned for a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers, though the movement is no longer active. Temple spokesman Ray Betzner said he was not aware of the school’s minimum wage policy for students, but said most are paid between $12 and $15 an hour.
A national movement dubbed the “Million Student March” began two years ago, including at schools such as the University of California, Berkeley, and Texas State University, to enact a $15 minimum wage for student workers and push for tuition-free public colleges.