Don’t Cut RA Pay; Raise It

This year compensation for Resident Advisors at Pomona dropped significantly, and now Pomona RAs are paid less than their counterparts at all the other Claremont Colleges. I believe that RA pay should be increased rather than cut, especially because of recent increased tensions between students and RAs.

Historically, RA compensation has been tied to the cost of the Room and Board fees, but Pomona has begun to move away from this system; RA wages have not kept up with room and board increases in recent years. At Pomona in 2011, the total compensation package of $9379.50 is split between a $5,500 stipend and a credit for half of the room fee, worth an added $3879.50. A report made by the Office of Campus Life in June 2009 details the RA compensation package as worth $12,220; in the last two years, total RA pay has dropped by 23%.

There are, of course, several apparent reasons for this decrease. Some cuts were phased in as a result of the 2008 budget reassessment. I’ve also heard from Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum that the pay cut was connected to an increase in the numbers of campus life coordinators, student RHS staff, and student affairs staff living on campus. By the end of this year, there will be nine student affairs staff living on campus, an increase from four several years ago. However, even with this increase in on-campus staff, I’ve been told by Dean Ric Townes that RAs will not be working any fewer on-call shifts or on-call hours.

Though there’s more research to be done, Pomona does not compare especially well to similar institutions across the country. Though we appear to pay more than many schools, our RAs also have considerably more work. In a 2009 study, Pomona’s OCL compared itself to the offices of campus life at nineteen other highly selective liberal arts schools. According to this study, Pomona had the third-highest student-to-RA ratio of all the schools, 51 to 1, while the median ratio was 28 to 1. I’m currently in the process of independently investigating the practices and payment methods of similar institutions across the country.

We compare very poorly within Claremont. A report filed over the summer by Pomona’s Office of Campus Life details the pay disparities across the 5Cs. The total compensation package this year for Claremont McKenna College RAs is $14,525, all given as a stipend. At Scripps College, the compensation package is $12,950 and is given as a credit for full room and board. At Pitzer College, compensation is worth $11,660, a mixture of a housing credit and a stipend. And at Harvey Mudd College, Proctors (the RA equivalent) are paid $9,771.20, given as a credit for most of room and board. The other Claremont Colleges pay their RAs more than we do at Pomona, and in 3 out of the 4 cases, the RA compensation package is at least two thousand dollars more than ours.

At Harvey Mudd, Dorm Proctors receive only four hundred dollars more than Pomona RAs. Yet according to Harvey Mudd Senior Associate Dean of Students Guy Gerbick, the Proctor is considered a “highly desirable position.” Three students apply for every available Proctor position. This compares favorably with Pomona’s ratio of about 1.5 applicants for every available RA position.

I believe that our Resident Advisors do a fantastic job with the parameters and guidelines that they are given, and I think the students who choose to be RAs show admirable devotion to our community. But I worry that the RA position is increasingly becoming an undesirable job for many students on campus.

In previous years, the low number of applications was due to the context of Pomona residential life. The other 5Cs don’t have sponsor programs like Pomona’s, so their RAs are often able to play the ‘good cop’ role model in addition to the ‘bad cop’ policy enforcer. Also, especially at Harvey Mudd and Claremont McKenna, Resident Advisors don’t enforce policy to the same degree that they do at Pomona. Here, RAs are most often seen in the ‘bad cop’ policy enforcer role, and tensions between RAs and students are already at a high level in part because of last year’s ill-fated ‘Gotcha’ security program.

This past spring, the low number of RA applications was a particular problem. Through the second week of classes, the Office of Campus Life struggled to fill its need for RAs. The office finally added a second RA to Oldenborg Dorm just a couple weeks ago.

I don’t believe that increasing RA salary will necessarily cause applicant numbers to double, but when RAs feel pressure from students on enforcement issues and at the same time feel pressure from the administration on financial issues, their position becomes increasingly difficult and undesirable. I’m worried that the recent decrease in the total compensation package will discourage qualified students from applying in the future.

I promise that I will spend the next few weeks looking into this matter further and advocating for an RA salary increase. I’ll also be examining the relationship between Financial Aid and RA wages. Given what I know now, it appears that the RA compensation at Pomona method is significantly less rewarding for students already on financial aid than to those who are not. I promise to keep the student body updated as I continue to investigate this matter, and I hope you’ll join me in pressuring the administration to reverse this troubling trend.

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