Students who work on campus at St. Paul’s private colleges and universities could get a hefty raise if the City Council passes a $15 minimum wage this year. But school leaders may make them pay more in tuition as a result.
As the council and Mayor Melvin Carter craft a minimum wage ordinance — which will almost certainly mandate a $15 hourly wage — the five private, nonprofit colleges and universities in the capital city want more time to phase it in for work-study students.
Depending on time of year, a total of up to 6,000 undergraduates may be employed part-time at Concordia University, Hamline University, the University of St. Thomas, St. Catherine University and Macalester College.
Students employed in work-study jobs work about 7.5 hours a week and earn an average wage of about $10.40 an hour, according to a recent report on the wage issue by the Citizens League. “Colleges recognize the benefit that would accrue to student workers from an increase in the minimum wage,” the five schools said in a joint statement included in the Citizens League report. “However, the implications of an increase in the minimum wage in the context of work-study employment are complex.”
The Citizens League report includes three recommendations for how to implement a citywide $15 minimum wage within seven years.
In addition to considering what it means for work-study students, the report discussed challenges facing employers such as microbusinesses, restaurants and businesses funded by Medicaid, but left it to the City Council to work out the details.
Council members will hear a presentation on the Citizens League report and hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.
Together, the five private, nonprofit colleges and universities in St. Paul enroll more than 18,000 undergraduates and more than 13,000 graduate students.
More than a third of students come from families than earn less than $50,000 a year, according to the Citizens League report.
Schools cover work-study costs with funds from federal and state programs, as well as their own resources.
To raise student workers’ wages, St. Paul’s private colleges and universities could be looking at cost increases of more than $2 million per institution annually, the report said.
To pay for that, they might raise tuition or cut student work hours or jobs.
“We’re in an odd circumstance where the students in some cases are funding their own raise,” said Eric LaMott, provost and chief operating officer at Concordia University. “Most schools don’t have heavy endowments that actually drive support to the operations in large volume, and so the tuition drives that.”
Still, for students, the possibility of a higher wage is enticing.
Linnea Henrikson, a freshman at Macalester, earns $10 an hour at her work-study job at the campus library, and works less than 9 hours a week. She said she hasn’t heard any discussion about how the college might pay for a student wage hike, but making $15 an hour “would be great.”
“I would love to have that,” she said. “As a student, it would help pay for everything.”
Hamline University junior and student body president Liam Davis Temple said his tuition has gone up every year, and he expects that to continue.
He said the benefits of raising students’ wages outweigh the possibility of tuition hikes.
“At Hamline, one of the big issues we’re looking to tackle as a student congress is the issue of food insecurity,” he said. “There are a lot of students who don’t have food. They can’t afford food.”
Council Member Mitra Jalali Nelson, whose ward includes Hamline and St. Thomas, has been a vocal supporter of a $15 minimum wage.
She said a pay hike will benefit students who are struggling to cover their living and tuition costs, though she also recognizes the challenges that colleges and universities may face.
“It’s a good example of how we need to work with our community partners to figure out how it’s going to impact them,” she said.
Beyond Wednesday’s hearing, community input sessions on the minimum wage are scheduled for Sept. 15 and 20.