Last year, Vivian Flanagan got worn out by her campus job at the University of Maryland: The hours were brutal, with some shifts starting or ending at 3 a.m. that left her struggling through classes. She worried about handling packages and working directly with so many students in the midst of the omicron surge of the coronavirus pandemic.
And with wages around $12 an hour, she thought, “I’m not getting paid enough for this.”
She was hardly alone in her frustration. In November, more than 1,200 U-Md. students signed a petition launched by the campus chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops in support of a campuswide $15 hourly minimum wage.
Flanagan was thrilled when the university’s president announced this week, as classes began in College Park, that the minimum wage for student workers would increase starting in January.
“Oh my gosh — I was really not expecting this to happen,” she said. “I’m really, really excited.”
In a message to the campus community, U-Md. President Darryll J. Pines called the minimum wage increase “a significant multimillion-dollar investment in a key pillar of our strategic plan: to invest in people and communities.”
Pines said by phone that as a matter of equity, “we feel that it’s important that we are listening to our communities and responding to their concerns about wages.” University leaders wanted to accelerate a state timetable to increase wages, he said, and make sure students could sustain themselves in a metropolitan area with such a high cost of living.
Pines said that “even prior to the student advocacy, our administration was already focused on this issue.”
The state of Maryland is raising the minimum wage to $15 for most hourly employees by 2025. And last year, the University System of Maryland — which includes the College Park campus — approved a $15 minimum wage for most of its employees.
But many student workers were stuck at the old pay levels.
A university spokeswoman said U-Md. has about 4,300 student employees, some who are earning $12.50 an hour until the new rate goes into effect next year. Others, typically those helping faculty members with research tasks, already make more than $15 an hour.
Flanagan, a member of the United Students group and a student leader, helped push forward a bill that passed the school’s Residence Hall Association, calling for an increase in their wages after hearing from students who relied on their campus jobs to pay for food and rent. Some had to take out loans to cover living expenses. In July, as a rising senior, she said she learned that her department’s wages would increase to $15 an hour.
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The stipends for graduate assistantships increased this year, as well, to nearly $31,000 a year on top of tuition benefits, said Joey Haavik, 26, who is in a master’s program studying international education policy.
According to the administration, the minimum stipend for graduate assistants increased more than 26% in 2022, and by more than 50% over the past four years.
Haavik, who is president of the Graduate Student Government, said the tuition benefits were one of the things that drew him to U-Md. — but that he has to live with his parents in Columbia because the stipend isn’t enough to cover rent, books, fees and other expenses.
“It’s not a financially practical decision to live in College Park with this stipend,” he said. “A financial adviser would not recommend it.”
U-Md. leaders have been supportive of students advocating for better pay, said Ayelette Halbfinger, 22, the student body president, with the challenge being how to fund an increase.
She has worked part-time throughout her time as a student — but not on campus. The pay was better elsewhere.
As for Flanagan, she quit the job with the crazy hours, and took another one in the same department. “The move to a different job, as well as the increase in wages,” she said, “has really drastically improved my life.”