New Student Workers Protections Act marks financial reform

Sandro Lorenzo/The Miscellany News.

On Sunday, Feb. 12, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) passed the new Student Workers Protections Act, which aims to revise the wage allotment cap put into place by the College. The current policy as it stands states that students may not earn over $3,000 with a work-study job; upon reaching the cap, students must cease working. “The fear of this practice causes many student workers to purposefully work for less money than what they are allotted, a large problem for all low-income students,” Resolution No. 26 summarizes. The College has agreed to the demands of the Protections Act, and it is expected to be implemented in the Fall 2023 semester.

According to Charlie From ’25, a VSA senator and founding member of the Working Students Coalition (WSC), only 28 percent of students receiving financial aid reached their $3,000 by the end of the school year, as found in a 2022 student employment survey. “These are facts that fly in the face of the College’s promise of meeting 100% of [a] student’s financial need and show that the system as it functions fails to accomplish its stated purpose,” they wrote in an email correspondence. They added that many students will work for lower wages out of fear of being fired, as the 2022 Student Employment Handbook states: “Student employees are classified as “at will” employees and may be terminated at any time without cause.” 

The Protections Act proposes that once student workers reach their allotment cap, the respective department they are working under will be responsible for funding excess wages. Of course, this poses an imbalance—depending on the budget of individual departments, some student workers will be able to work hours outside the original allotment, while others will not. “This is by no means a fix-all solution,” From wrote. They continued: “A band-aid for a bullet wound might not be the best analogy, because a person with a bullet wound is assumed to be healthy before the bullet. A better analogy might be a ‘band-aid for a bullet wound on a person debilitated from the beginning’…since the system has never worked for low-income students.” 

The end goal, From explained, would be to fully separate work-study from financial aid: “Low-income students should not have to work an additional 8-10 hours as part of their financial aid package,” they emphasized. “This structure creates inequities of time between the work-study and non-work-study populations.” 

Lydia Freedman ’25, another VSA senator and member of the WSC, agrees that a divorce between financial aid and work study is necessary. Of the currently standing labor policy, she wrote in a correspondence, “One of the main things I found unfair was that non work study students could make up to 3k (think VSA exec board and stufels) while some Vassar allotments were under 3k, which means they needed that money more than non work study students.” She mentioned that last year she was hired very late in the semester, and was subsequently only able to make about a quarter of her allotment. “The late hire was frustrating, I didn’t get a lot of hours based on my actual position, and I didn’t really know how to navigate my position,” she explained. In a system where financial aid packages are intertwined with work-study positions, she argued, low-income students are hurt. “I’d like to see a guarantee for students who have work study in their financial aid package get jobs quickly and get on the right path for making the money Vassar said they would get.” 

But while the Protections Act may not be a “fix-all solution,” it is a landmark moment signifying cooperation between student-workers and the administration. 

Vice President for Technology and Human Resources Carlos García expressed his gratitude for the VSA’s engagement with the administration: “We are confident that transparent collaboration is the fastest and most effective way to meaningfully strengthen student employment.” He continued to explain that the College aims to cultivate an employment program that is both competitive and supportive for student and departmental needs. Recently, the administration adopted a cross-functional Student Employment Advisory Group: “We invited participants, including students, last week,” he wrote. “We expect the discussions to help secure buy-in for implementing changes that may not have the same implications for diverse parties across campus (including students, faculty, staff, and administrators).” 

From remains optimistic in future endeavors, considering the act as a motion towards financial aid reform. “One small benefit with the policy…is that individual departments will be responsible for lay-offs when they occur instead of a vague Student Employment body termination,” they wrote. 

From further noted that the College was originally designed to educate upper-class white students, and this legacy trickles into present-day. “When we frame the system like that, the long-term solutions that do working students justice are ones in which they have power in their employment structure,” they wrote. Ultimately, the purpose of financial aid reform is to reinstate agency to low-income students; the Protections Act is a stepping-stone in that direction.

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