Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | The minimum wage in Alabama may be low, but consider a job on campus anyway

CW / Riley Thompson
An employee pours a drink at Starbucks in the Student Center.

Holding a job while in college can be a challenge for many of us who choose to work. Juggling course loads and extracurricular activities with a job can be difficult. However, on-campus work can be a more accessible way for students to make money and garner necessary work experience before entering the workforce.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2020 40% of full-time undergraduates worked while attending university. Most college students do not have the luxury of going through college without worrying about money to pay for groceries, housing and tuition. With the average cost of even an in-state, public college education ballooning to over $26,000 per year, every little bit helps. 

At The University of Alabama, one way for students to make money while gaining work experience is to obtain an on-campus job. In addition to the money, on-campus jobs are convenient, and you’ll be working among your peers. The Department of Human Resources at the University told me that more than 5,100 students are employed by the University. 

In addition to convenience, student workers also receive a Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax exemption. They can work with their supervisors to pick flexible work hours to fit their schedules. Because no on-campus student employee can work more than 20 hours per week, the Department of Human Resources said students can “focus on their studies.” 

The department also noted that students seeking employment on campus should apply at a semester in advance of their desired start date to have a better chance of being accepted. While students unable to find opportunities on campus can seek work off campus, it’s often hard to beat the flexibility of on-campus employment. 

As of writing, several on-campus positions are open to undergraduate students, including being a peer tutor, working at the Supe Store in the Student Center, and working in the mail center. However, these opportunities are not just limited to undergraduates. There are even more options for graduate students, including working as a teaching assistant.

Sherman Tylawsky, a Ph.D. student studying political science, described his job as a TA as being a “professor in training.” He is learning, while still a student, how to one day perform the duties of a professor. This “learning by doing,” he told me, “sharpens my confidence, public speaking abilities, creativity, judgment and communication skills.”

Students do not have to wait to acquire the practical skills necessary for success in the real world. Sherman’s experiences show that graduate students can gain valuable work experience while pursuing their degree. 

However, student on-campus employment is not always as high paying as students may want or need. The state of Alabama relies on the federal minimum wage, meaning student workers at the University are only required to be paid $7.25 an hour.

As SGA Sen. Ragan Hope Wilson told me, while students may want to work where they go to class, “many students, particularly low-income and those from marginalized communities, must work somewhere where they are paid a livable wage.”

No matter one’s opinions on increasing the minimum wage, it is inarguable that with the high costs of a college education — especially in Tuscaloosa — it is tough for low-income families to support their children through their education careers.

As Wilson put it, “Student workers are legally only allowed to work 20 hours a week while enrolled as full-time students, and $160 a week is just not compatible with the price of living.” While working only 20 hours a week may help students focus on their studies, it, too, limits how much they can earn on campus.

Early last year, SGA Sen. Xzarria Peterson passed a resolution encouraging the University to increase the minimum wage paid to student workers. Because each campus department sets its own minimum wage, some students are only guaranteed the federal minimum, while others are paid much more. Peterson argued that the minimum should be closer to $10 and that a new pay scale should be adopted.

A further complicating factor for out-of-state students is the low minimum wage compared with many of their home states. Many people, like me, who have come from out of state to attend The University of Alabama have to adjust to the fact that the minimum wages we may get from working at home are different from what they are in Alabama. 

When students come from a state where the minimum wage is sometimes double what it is here, it may be harder to justify devoting 20 hours a week to an on-campus job that will pay only a fraction of what they would be making in their home state. With the bills we all have to pay for food, rent and other basic needs, for many of us, these costs are piling into debt we will have to pay off in the future.

While it is fair to criticize the often low pay students receive when working on-campus jobs, the money is still beneficial in helping students pay for their education.

Many of us need these jobs to pay for our education, and the experience some of these positions provide students will aid them in standing out from the crowd when applying for jobs after college. Students should seriously consider taking advantage of the resources available to them on campus.

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