By Eric Martinez
Of the many burdens that the modern student bears, the looming presence of student loan debt remains one cause of great concern. For many students, the experience of college lies somewhere between the fantasy we were told and a harsh reality we face. Every day we struggle between both acknowledging its impact and hiding from its reach. Every day it inundates us with its message of impending obligations and our peers, parents, news sources, and professors become its emissaries of collection. Why should we bring about the misery of acknowledging that the unsubsidized loans we bear accrue interest daily? Why should we recognize that this only further adds to the principal payment, resulting in our disheartening crescendo of debt obligations?
Student loan debt is indeed an important contemporary issue considering that, at $1.2 trillion, student loan debt has even surpassed national credit card debt. Moreover, StartClass, an education data site, estimates that the national student loan debt increases at a rate of $2,726.27 per second. But for all the scrutiny tuition and student loans receive, however, there exists another issue that has similarly captivated the attention of students and millennials alike: the living wage.
Certainly, this concept resonates with many students. Achieving a living wage for all campus workers is one of the driving forces behind the growing student movement #MillionStudentMarch (MSM). On November 12th of 2015, students from a wide range of backgrounds across 115 campuses partook in marches across the country, with many other marches having taken place since. One such march took place at Texas State University (where I am a student) on Wednesday, April 13th, this time alongside the Black Liberation Collective — a partnership that speaks volumes about the increased interconnectedness and socially conscious attributes of our generation.
From the perspective of campus administrators, though, providing a living wage to all campus employees remains difficult to achieve: colleges and universities themselves cannot cancel debt, yet they cannot make tuition free and also remain above water. Herein, we must acknowledge that providing a living wage for all campus workers does not seem achievable without an increase in tuition.
The typical divisiveness that plagues the political field between the left and the right is largely absent on this issue due to agreement over one particular cause of tuition increases. Thinkers from across the political field have denounced the recent growth in “administrative bloat,” which is the problem and practice of universities’ tendency to employ far more non-teaching administrative staff than professors. Thomas Lindsay, Director for the Center of Higher Education at Texas Public Policy Foundation, speaks to this phenomenon in “Finally, Bipartisan Agreement on Why College Is So Expensive.” From the left, Michelle Chen, contributing writer to The Nation, adds to this dialogue in “Why Is College So Expensive if Professors Are Paid So Little?” Chen explains, “The hyperinflated price tag of college has funneled toward another aspect of the higher education system: driving funds into administrative offices…twenty five years ago, a student at a public college…would see twice as many [teaching] faculty as administrators on average; now the ratio is roughly equal.”
The MSM addresses such concerns over tuition increases by calling for cancellation of all student debt and free public college for all. But such idealistic, nationwide schemes risk making the perfect the enemy of the good. So instead, let us narrow our focus and bring into consideration the perspective of the individual university itself. Texas State will be our example.
I’d like to offer a proposal that addresses administrative bloat, the issue of student debt, and a living wage for campus workers—without increasing tuition or making public college free for all.
The Texas Tribune collects and publishes publicly accessible data regarding all employee salary information at Texas State University in their Government Salaries Explorer, and the university reports it as a matter of law. You can download this data into a spreadsheet that lists information such as name, job title, and monthly and annual compensation for all 3,529 university employees.
According to this monthly compensation data, there are 218 employees (constituting the bottom 6%) who do not make a living wage. At $15/hour, assuming a 32-hour work week (factoring in part-time work), this amounts to $2,080/month, or $24,960/year.
There are 32 employees with 9-month employment durations making less than a living wage. They should be paid a total sum of $599,040 but are actually paid $419,719, a difference of $179,320. There are also 185 12-month employees making less than a living wage. They should be paid a total sum of $4,617,600 but are actually paid $3,720,270, a difference of $897,329. This makes for a combined total of $1,076,649 in necessary appropriations. The question is, how should the university cover these costs?
Well, interestingly enough, 5% of each of the salaries of the top 200 earners at Texas State, or the top 6% of employees, amounts to $1,430,083, which is more than enough to ensure that all campus workers can earn a living wage. Call me what you may, but the solution seems simple. Redistribution of this money to those at the lowest economic rung not making this living wage would make Texas State University both a champion and a steward for future progress: to stand up and acknowledge this would signal that people—no matter their condition, no matter their station, no matter their origin—deserve an elevated standard of living that is afforded to so many Americans under our prosperous society but that is still out of the reach and grasp of many.