This article is the first in a series of many more to come. Reporter Ellie Ramsey will be diving into her life as a broke college athlete just trying to make it all work.
At the University of Redlands, 1,592 students were offered Work Study as part of their financial aid package (2016-2017 academic year). That comes out to be about 66 percent of the student body. Within that 66 percent, only 68 percent of students chose to be employed by the school to earn their Work Study Award. There are 111 students employed by the school who are also student athletes, and a mere 15 of those athletes are dual sport athletes. I am one of those 15 dual sport athletes, and this is my experience as a student who balances school, work, running collegiately year round in Cross Country/Track and Field, and somehow trying to fit a social life into that equation.
I come from a small town in the even smaller state of Vermont, and before you ask yourself where Vermont is, no it is not in Canada. I found the University of Redlands on a fluke, but I knew it was my dream school.
Unfortunately, this dream school is not a cheap one. But fortunately, I was granted the maximum amount of work-study a student can receive, a number that is based on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) information, meaning I can work up to ten hours a week to obtain $3,300 throughout the school year. This money can be used, in theory, to pay for tuition, but can also be allocated in anyway the student wishes.
I work at the Fitness Center on campus as one of the people who sit behind the front desk, and makes everyone sign-in, no matter how hard they roll their eyes, or tell me they’ve “never had to sign-in before.” I am also the one who has the privilege of putting heavy weights away when people “forget” to re-rack them. Yes, I know it makes perfect sense that people repeatedly pick their weights up and put them back down repeatedly, but when it comes to putting them away, my scrawny arms have to heave them back to where they belong. Enough complaining, because my job is actually really great. I get to write inspirational quotes on the whiteboard located at the front of the gym, to help motivate and encourage people in their efforts, which is fun.
However, I have found it difficult to get ten hours of work every week. I don’t know how the allocation of hours works for other on campus jobs, but at the Fitness Center, we have one-hour time slots for the whole week, and we sign up for two-hour shifts. This would be a great system if everyone’s schedules lined up perfectly so that people could work ten hours a week,attend their classes and practices. But because everyone’s schedule is vastly different, that is not the case, and most of the shifts that are open are during times when I am either in class or at cross country or track practice. This means that I often am left with only six to eight hours of work each week, and last year there were some weeks where I only had three. I have to say it was nice not having to work as much for a couple of weeks. It freed up my exceptionally busy schedule for a short period of time. Although it did mean that I have to settle for a much lower paycheck at the end of the two week pay period.
To give a better idea of what exactly it means to live a day in the life of me, I have two a day practices for Cross Country at 7:00 am, and then again at 4:00pm. Then during Track we have practice everyday at 4:00 pm, and sometimes assigned runs in the morning. Each practice lasts for about an hour and a half to two hours. This means that I have to schedule all my classes between 9:30 and and 4:00, which can prove to be a lot more difficult than I would like it to be. As of right now, I work six hours a week, spread out through Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. Then add homework into the equation, as well as sleep, and maybe getting a chance to see my boyfriend every once in awhile, and I’m left with a pretty jam packed week.
But that’s enough about me for the time being. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of work –study here at the University of Redlands, shall we?
For a while I thought that the system was rigged, and that even if I worked ten hours a week, there was no way I would be able to reach my full Work Study Award amount. That all changed when I met with Kathryn Wood from the Student Employment office, and Bethann Corey from Student Financial Services, whose offices are both located in the Willis Center. I have to admit that when I started the conversation I was bias towards the idea and that our institution was to blame. But after talking with Wood and Corey, it was hard to ignore the numbers. I asked Wood what the process was for calculating the Work Award for each student, and she explained that most students with a work opportunity are awarded for the full academic year. To calculate the award amount, they take the average pay rate of work study jobs, which is $11.25 (but it should be noted that it is $11.00 for fall 2017. In spring minimum wage increases to $11.00 – so the $11.25 is an average rate for the year), then multiply that by the ten hours of work per week, and multiply that by the 30 weeks in the school year.
When I was faced with the numbers it was hard to argue with them. It was also clear that our institution wants to work with work-study students to allow them to earn our entire work-study amount. Corey explained that when the financial aid office puts together the individual financial aid letters, they don’t include work-study as “fluff,” as she called it. However, that money isn’t sitting in a savings accounting designated to each student. The bigger picture is that our school is given federal funding for work-study, but most of it comes from institutional funding, which is something I didn’t realize. I was under the impression that almost all of that money came from the federal government.
Wood gave me the exact numbers, and they were pretty shocking. Our school gets $604,000 from federal funding, and then the institution has to come up with $1.2 million, which is part of the budget for operating costs of the institution, and this can change on a yearly basis. So when I don’t work the full ten hours a week, and eventually am unable to obtain all $3,300 of my award, that money isn’t getting used for something else, or simply sitting in a vault somewhere being untouched, which is what I had imagined. Instead it stays circulating in the budget for operating costs. The way our school is run, in terms of work-study, is actually used as an example for other universities nationwide.
Wood told me that she has been to national conferences where people have come up to her and told her how impressed they are with our institutional fundings and the opportunities that are provided for us. Some schools only have a couple hundred dollars in their budget going toward jobs for students, and when that money runs out, students no longer have jobs on campus.
Like I said before, the Student Employment office at the University of Redlands is staffed with people who just want to help. In fact, when I expressed my disheartenment towards not being able to make as much money as I need in order to continue paying tuition, Wood offered to sit down with me and make a plan to change that. She suggested I take up another job, which I didn’t know we were allowed to do, or get a new job entirely that would better suit my schedule.
I told her that if we had gotten together the week before, I would have taken her up on that offer, but I recently started working a second job outside of the school. I start that job in a few days, so stayed tuned to find out how that turns out, and how it affects my balancing act.
Taking the time to sit down with Wood and Corey was not only informative in terms of the financial numbers, and hard facts,* but there was a lesson to be learned as well.
As I said, I went into that meeting with a chip on my shoulder, but all it took was the asking of a few questions for me to realize that I was under false impressions, a lesson seems to be really important in today’s society. I’m sure that there are a lot of people out there who have had similar frustrations with trying to balance both work and study, which is actually why the school caps our hours at ten a week.
I just want to let you know that it is okay to be frustrated, but know your facts, and I’m also here to show you that you are not alone. I’ll share all my successes, failures, tips, and tricks that go along with being a student, a worker, and an athlete. But if you’re reading this, and don’t connect to any of those aspects, then I hope you enjoyed reading anyway, and remember to always re-rack your weights.
cover photo courtesy of Jo Kim, Redlands Bulldog photographer
*All information and statistics in this article were provided by Student Employment and the Student Financial Services department.