As September approaches and Vassar students begin to navigate the new normal, Student Employment is also adjusting to a number of changes and challenges.
After classes went remote last semester, Vassar still paid students an average of their weekly salary even though the vast majority of students were not on campus to complete their jobs. But for Fall 2020, out-of-state students studying remotely will not be allowed remote jobs. In addition, students who live outside of New York State will not be paid for their on-campus jobs after they leave campus for Thanksgiving break. In this shortened semester, this means they may need to work more than 10 hours a week to earn their full work study grants—which for some jobs is impossible, as there simply is not enough work.
Legally, private colleges like Vassar cannot pay students who are working across state lines. The College continued to pay students during the spring because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act relief bill passed by Congress in March, which included a provision allowing colleges to keep paying students for work study jobs they had before classes went remote. Director of Student Financial Services Jacqueline Perez said that for students on work study, Financial Aid has replaced the fall portion of the work study with a Vassar Scholarship for any student who chose to study remotely and lives out of state.
Despite the fact that student jobs are part of Vassar’s financial aid package and therefore a vital source of income, information about student employment is not easy to find. The VassarTogether website, while having detailed protocols for student activities and clubs, provides no information about what student employment will look like this year. The Student Employment Office has not sent out information to all students outlining what jobs will be available on campus. The Student Employment Office, which used to be under Financial Services, is now under Human Resources.
JobX, a website where students can apply for Vassar jobs, is up and running, but it is unclear which jobs can be performed remotely. Associate Vice President of Human Resources Ruth Spencer explained that the office has not received all jobs for the fall yet, and that JobX is updated when faculty and administrators submit job descriptions.
President Elizabeth Bradley and several deans discussed these changes in student forums over the summer. However, some felt this was not a sufficient means of sharing information pertinent to the entire student body.
Marisa Petticord ’21, who works as a student assistant for the Anthropology department, posted on a student-run Facebook group after learning students living out of state would not be paid after Thanksgiving Break. Petticord lives in Ohio, and was told by the Student Employment Office that she could make up the hours by working extra while on campus. To reach her $1,500 work study amount, she will work 11 hours a week while on campus. “Because I am a financial aid student and heavily rely on the money I receive from work study, last week I spoke to Student Employment about their plan for work study with the shortened semester,” Petticord explained.
“I know that this information was a surprise to my fellow students because it was not mentioned to any financial aid student at Vassar for the fall semester. This information could have been the make or break for someone debating being on campus or leaving this fall.”
Many on-campus jobs plan to hire fewer students than usual. The Athletic Communications department, which hires students to photograph and record Vassar’s athletic competitions, will only be hiring a few students to do office work in-person, as Vassar’s intercollegiate sports season has been canceled.
The Residential Operations Center (ROC) will also be hiring fewer students. Alexandria Ortiz ’22, who worked for the ROC the past two years, is looking for a remote job this semester. “I don’t feel like Vassar is doing enough to support their students. In the email I received from Student Employment they told me that ‘You can apply to those positions which indicate they can be done remotely.’ But none of the job listings in JobX indicate if they are done remotely or not,” said Ortiz.
When asked if all students who qualify for work study will be able to secure a job, Spencer explained that this depends on whether a student lives in New York and how many jobs end up being available. “To maximize their chances of securing a job, we advise students to apply to as many jobs for which they are qualified,” she said.
Several on-campus jobs have successfully transitioned to being fully remote, as working remotely helps reduce density on campus and gives both supervisors and students the ability to socially distance from each other. Spencer explained that whether or not a job will be remote depends on the employee’s responsibilities and is at the discretion of the employer. Carolyn Patterson ’22, who works as a caller for Phonathon, will be calling alumnae/i from her own room instead of going to the call center. “I think working remotely will take some getting used to and will be weird in some ways, but I’m glad that we are doing it,”she said. “I think the most important thing is that students who aren’t on campus or aren’t comfortable working in-person have good and safe options available to them.” Ruth Spencer encourages students who have questions about student employment this semester to reach out to her at [email protected] or make an appointment at the CIS building with the office at [email protected].