Students raise concerns about financial aid salary cap

Recent reports in the College Council minutes concerning the salary of the new Goodrich manager have raised broader concerns about the work-study program at Williams College.

Several students have voiced criticism of the policy limiting the salary of financial aid students under the work-study program.

A few weeks ago the College Council approved a $4025 salary for the Goodrich manager, a total which is well above the earning caps for financial aid students.

Director of Financial Aid Philip Wick reported that the first-year earning cap for financial aid students is $1550 per year, while for upper class students the cap rises to $1700.

Goodrich Manager Ryan Mayhew ’01 explained some of the reasons for his salary. He said he is paid a salary rather than an hourly wage because his hours are so variable.

“It’s a fairly amorphous job,” Mayhew said. “The basic premise is that I’m the student in charge of the management of the building.” As student manager, Mayhew is in charge of the scheduling and maintenance for the building and also updates the web page and coordinates group use of the resource room.

“Sometimes it’s hard to describe what I do because [the job] is always changing,” he said.

He said he is also responsible for responding to inquiries from different campus departments, replying to e-mails and ensuring that the building is well-supplied.

“The level of work is comparable to what the [College Council] co-presidents deal with on a weekly basis,” he said.

Holly Smith ’99, a work-study student who is the student manager of Baxter dining hall, said she is not surprised that the Goodrich manager is well paid.

“Goodrich is a project tied to the reputation and attractiveness of Williams as a college,” she said. “Ryan’s job is pretty ‘white collar’ as far as work-study goes, so it is no surprise that he is paid handsomely.”

However, she added that she believes there are some problems with the work-study system.

She explained that she has tried unsuccessfully in the past to have her wage cap increased.

“Generally the work study system isn’t fair because non-financial aid students can exceed any wage cap because being penalized in next year’s financial aid package probably does not factor in as largely in their ability to pay tuition here,” she said. “The system does reward the people who need it the least.”

Mayhew was hired last spring by the College Council. He attributed his appointment to his work with the Student Activities Committee (SAC).

Two other student sub-managers at Goodrich receive salaries that are also above the financial aid cap, although they declined to provide specific numbers. Supply Manager Kim Zelnick ’00 is in charge of the coffee bar’s inventory, and Personnel Manager Sargeant Donovan-Smith ’99 handles the staffing of the coffee bar. Both Zelnick and Donovan-Smith were hired by Mayhew and the College Council.

Co-President of the College Council Will Slocum ’99 said the salary decisions for the three managers were made in a discussion between Assistant Dean Wanda Lee, Wick, and the current College Council administration.

“Our goal was to compensate the three managers on par with the college-wide managerial pay level, which is $7 an hour,” Slocum said. “For accounting purposes, we thought it would be best to estimate the average hours per week they each would be working and then pay them a weekly check accordingly.”

Slocum said the Council estimated that Mayhew would average about 16 hours and 30 minutes a week and the coffee bar managers approximately 13 hours and 30 minutes.

He added that so far the Council has been paying Ryan his wages and the wages of Zelnick and Donovan-Smith have come from the independent Goodrich account.

However, Slocum said the College Council underestimated the number of hours the managers would end up working.

“Unfortunately the truth of the matter is that they all have been working far in excess of the predicted average hours meaning that their pay has been significantly lower than other campus jobs,” he said. “We predict that this discrepancy will even out later in the year once the workers are trained and everyone has worked out an efficient management system.”

Co-President of the College Council Kate Ervin ’99 agreed that the managers are working significantly more than had been expected.

“I think the real issue right now is whether they are putting in too much of their time,” she said. “Our primary concern is the amount of work they are doing. We’re going to look into hiring assistant managers to alleviate their work load.”

Ervin said she was unaware of the fact that there is a wage cap for financial aid students. “The knowledge of a financial aid cap was news to me and news we’re going to have to think about,” she said. “It’s a tough issue we’re going to have to look into.”

Unlike the undefined hours of the Goodrich managers, there is a limit to the number of hours that financial aid students can work on campus. Wick explained that each financial aid student receives an award package that includes a scholarship, loan, and job. He said each financial aid student is expected to work, but it is not a requirement to receive financial aid.

Wick said because most students have an amount of federal money in their packages there is a limit to how much they can earn by working. He explained that the federal regulations are based on the notion that the amount a student earns through work cannot be larger than his or her need.

As stated earlier, at Williams first-year financial aid students cannot earn above $1550 per year and upper-class students cannot earn above $1700 per year. Wick noted that this averages out to about nine or 10 hours of work per week. He added that most financial aid students choose to work six to seven hours per week and make up the difference by working during the summer.

Andy Kyle ’99 ran into trouble last year when he hit his earning limit before the end of the year. He was working as a teaching assistant in the art department as well as working in the scene shop at the Adams Memorial Theatre. Despite the efforts of his boss, Kyle was unable to raise his earning limit.

“I don’t really understand the reason for the salary cap,” he said. “I guess I never asked. It seems to me that student help is a resource that. . .department[s] should be able to buy as much or as little of as they need— like any other service or product.”

Wick explained the unusual arrangement for the Goodrich managers by noting that they have a high level of responsibility.

“The managers of Goodrich have taken on a level of responsibility that no other Williams student has,” he said. “They have to make their own decisions.”

“Nothing is fair,” he added. “We don’t live in a perfect world.”

He noted that other sets of students are also not subject to the earnings cap. Specifically, he said foreign financial aid students are not held to the same salary rules as American financial aid students.

“We try to create an even playing field knowing there will always be exceptions,” he said.

Wick also noted that most students don’t want to work above their limit because of other commitments, such as academic work and extracurricular activities. He said many departments are currently facing a supply problem because the number of jobs has increased while the number of students has remained the same.

However, he said there have been cases where students have been permitted to work more than the limit. “If a student wants
to work more they can come see us at the Financial Aid Office and we can work something out,” he said.

Mayhew is not on financial aid and therefore is not limited by the Financial Aid Office salary restrictions. Wick said in the future if a student on financial aid becomes the Goodrich manager, the Financial Aid Office will probably be able to adjust the student’s award package by decreasing the loan allotment and increasing the work-study allotment.

However students such as Cristina Santiestevan ’00 are still critical of the system.

“While a non-work study student has no limit to their earnings, a work study student is not allowed to earn more than a certain amount,” she said. “I fail to see the logic of this.” Santiestevan observed that if a financial aid student wanted to manage Goodrich the increase in salary would be taken away from another part of his or her financial aid package.

“It would be disadvantageous for any work study student to apply to be the Goodrich Hall manager,” she said. “They would lose loan money only to work more hours for the same financial package.

“Truthfully, though, most work study students (like most other students) put these earnings towards other expenses, and the difference is made up by parental contribution,” she added. “Thus, what is the point of limiting the hours a work study student can work? If work-study earnings went directly towards tuition, then I would understand the logic. But there is essentially no difference between what happens with a work-study student’s earnings and a regular student’s earnings.”