When Work-Study Doesn’t Work

Like many students at Oberlin, my financial aid hinges on my participation in the Community-Based Work-Study Program. This means I’m required to get a job so I can pay for part of my tuition with that income. However, receiving a work-study financial aid package does not guarantee a work-study job. I started applying for jobs on Oct. 12, nearly two weeks after arriving on campus. Almost a month afterward, on Nov. 9, I got an acceptance from one of the five jobs I applied for. The status of my other applications is still “in progress.”

Jobs with reasonable qualifications and pay are hard to find. Many of the jobs on Oberlin’s job posting website pay between $8.80 and $10.00 an hour, at or barely above Ohio’s minimum wage, and they require high standards just to be considered as an applicant. One of the most egregious examples is the job of Allen Memorial Art Museum’s Student Curatorial Assistant in Asian Art. According to the job posting, applicants must have fluency or at least a 200-level proficiency in an Asian language and must submit a one-page cover letter, a one-page resume with two references, and an unofficial transcript. The total pay for a job with such high demands? $10.00 an hour. It’s also important to note that as of Nov. 9, the position of Student Curatorial Assistant for Asian Art is still up on the website, and has been since Oct. 8, meaning the position hasn’t been filled yet. 

Other jobs require extreme physical labor for long periods of time. For instance, a job in the student mailroom requires students to lift up to 50 pounds without assistance during 3 to 4 hour shifts for $10.50 an hour. Additionally, some of the job postings do not provide specific hours for shifts, making it unclear how they would fit into my schedule. The highest-paying job I could find is a Figure Drawing Model, which requires students to hold poses for extended periods of time and be comfortable posing nude. The job pays $12.00 an hour, minimum wage in my home state of New Jersey. If you’re curious about qualifications and pay for different job openings right now, you can visit the College website here. 

There are also jobs at AVI Foodsystems that pay up to $13.50 an hour, but with reports of AVI taking advantage of their workers, the money is not worth it for me, although some student workers do not have the privilege of making that call. I’ve read a number of articles in student publications about the history of AVI and their actions. It’s unacceptable and frankly quite insulting how little many of these jobs pay, especially for first-generation and low-income work-study students who rely on this income even more than I do, and because AVI is a private company, a job there does not even qualify for the work-study program. 

Retrospectively, I realize that I should have applied as soon as possible for an on-campus job. But at the time, I wanted to keep my schedule open for clubs and other extracurriculars. Unfortunately, many of these clubs did not have clear schedules. A club I signed up for in the first week of October emailed out a poll from the scheduling website when2meet just a couple of days ago, and I still haven’t heard back from every club I signed up for on the mailing list at Connections Fair. To be clear, I do not put any blame on club leaders for unclear meeting times. I empathize with how difficult it must have been to lead a club during COVID-19. This speaks to a bigger issue at Oberlin about the disorganization that has ensued from the semester change, something beyond any club leader’s control. I also want to acknowledge that it is a privilege to be able to hold off on job applications in order to give priority to other activities in the first place, as not everyone is able to do so.

With all of this being said, I’m incredibly grateful that I’m now employed with a job that pays well and fulfills my work-study program requirement, but I’m also disappointed about the limited opportunities available. I hope that the College can offer more support to student workers and consider increasing the pay for these jobs, especially those with demanding qualifications or that require physical labor. Student workers, especially first-generation and low-income student workers, are invaluable on this campus, and they deserve better treatment and wages from the College and employers.