Last summer, Pomona College adjusted the work study program on campus in an effort to curb spending on work study jobs.The problem is not the recent changes. The current predicament, with all of the problems it is causing for on-campus employment, is simply exacerbating an existing problem on campus. The college must build a work study program that provides financial aid students with the funding that they need without preventing the participation of students in campus activities, or reducing the services that students provide.The current system tries to fix a broken patchwork of ideas about equitable pay, opportunity for all work study students to earn their financial aid, and not differentiating between students on financial aid and those off of financial aid. The college currently limits the ability for many students to work at their full capacity, and the capacity at which the college requires. Additionally, the current system leaves jobs vacant that are only vacant because there are too few people who are qualified to hold those jobs. The system also encourages students not to accept small on campus jobs which would pay only part of their required allotment, as there are far fewer of these jobs available. Finally, the college is required to force students to stop working for their organization once they run out of their allotment. Although this regulation is due to legal requirements, it still stifles participation in campus activities and organizations unnecessarily.
Finally, the current exemption system tries to provide for some jobs which require high-skilled labor. However, the system still fails as it requires those students to only hold a single job on campus regardless of their other skills. As well, it encourages students to select a single organization in which to participate, instead of allowing students to participate in the plethora of organizations that Pomona students have a propensity to join.As the recent cuts to the work study budget have shown, Pomona cannot afford to pay both non-financial aid and financial aid students at the levels that they have been. As the college makes its budget cuts, it is important that they first preserve resources for students on financial aid. One way of addressing this budgeting issue might be to cut work study funding for non-financial aid students, but that is not equitable given the system that exists. It hardly seems fair for students who aren’t on financial aid to be working in positions that their counterparts on financial aid are getting paid for. In order to avoid this, Pomona should dissociate work from compensation—something they’ve failed to do in the past.The first step to creating a work study program that works will be to make sure that the jobs available to students are actually necessary. Under the current system, the college has had to invent a number of superfluous, unskilled jobs for students on financial aid that do not have skilled-labor jobs. The college is only providing them so that students can “earn” some of their keep. Instead, the college should be using student labor productively to do work that would otherwise require additional paid staff.Looking at the existing jobs, however, a number of students currently fill dynamic roles on campus that are more than just run-of-the-mill jobs. This semester, Pomona has been restricting the number of positions and hours that students can take, many of which require skilled workers. This means that students who do not posses certain skill sets (like lifeguard certification, or the ability to mentor an upper division math class) are not afforded any more work opportunities, and those with the specialized skills are inhibited from providing services that the college community needs. The college cannot expect that by preventing some students from taking one set of jobs, they will open those jobs up to other students. In all probability, the students who still need a job can’t find one because the skill set they posses does not match the open jobs. This is bound to happen under the blanket allotment policies put forward by the school.In order to remedy this, the college should move away from providing paid positions for work that should be treated as an extracurricular activity—but it must be done in an equitable way. The college should allow students to apply to have their positions on campus funded, just as students can apply to receive payment for off-campus internships through PCIP. Instead of working in a paid unskilled position, students on financial aid would instead be able to receive payment for their work in student organizations. As well, students without a financial need could apply for funding for highly skilled and difficult jobs that must be filled on campus. This would then eliminate the inconsistent link between work and pay that the college exercises now. It would allow the college to entirely separate compensation from work done, and allow all students to participate in the college community without at bias towards or against those on work-study aid.
This article has been revised from an earlier version.