Student government workers at Washington State University Vancouver will soon be paid through stipends. Students working in student government, the Associated Students of Washington State University Vancouver, are currently considered employees and are paid hourly wages. The change is set to take place this spring, with no specific date set yet.
Nancy Youlden, vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment, announced the change in an interview with The VanCougar on Jan. 19.
WSU Vancouver Human Resource Director Randy Boose explained, “Think of stipends as a set salary. One may receive $2,500 for a semester of work. If that one person works over the amount, they cannot receive more just like if they worked under the amount, then we can’t take any away.”
Youlden said there will be future discussions to determine whether other student organizations funded by the university should pay students through stipends. Many student worker positions outside student government, including The VanCougar, are paid through hourly wages.
The policy change is the result of a several months of discussion between Pullman and other WSU campuses. “The decision to implement stipends at WSU Vancouver is prompted by Human Resource Services (HRS) in Pullman – all other campuses have made the transition already,” said Youlden. “We were waiting until we had more information about the reason for the change and also wanted to better understand who would be impacted.”
In an interview on Dec. 18, WSU Vancouver Chancellor Mel Netzhammer said that Pullman switched to stipends in August. The Vancouver campus also used stipends until four years ago when the university switched to hourly pay, he said.
Pullman switched to stipends in part because they have a larger campus than Vancouver. With hourly pay, someone that has to go through every timesheet to verify employees are claiming the correct number of hours for their work. For Vancouver, that may be a few hundred student employees. For Pullman, that could mean thousands.
The change is also expected to help the university with budgeting. In the December interview, Netzhammer explained that knowing exactly how much money will be allocated in advance allows the university to better plan.
However, the change is not without its detractors. In an interview on Dec. 20, ASWSUV President Jose Scott said stipends have problems with accountability. He explained that stipends are “a set amount of money you get each week regardless of how much you work,” so stipends lack the incentive inherent to hourly pay. He also explained the opposite problem can exist under a stipend system when someone who works longer than expected is not compensated for their work. “If you do work over the limit, then since you are on stipends and you’re not an employee of the university then there’s no relief for that,” he said.
Boose confirmed this, explaining that “if the university puts the student government on stipends then they are considered as students and not as employees.” This means workers wouldn’t be eligible for benefits like sick leave and could even be paid less than minimum wage if they worked long enough.
In the December interview, Scott said the people he has talked to prefer the hourly wage. “We’re just concerned for what’s going to happen on our campus and to our students and we are working hard to try to claim our position and stand up for what we believe in,” he said.
In an interview after the decision to switch, Scott said that he “prefers the status quo,” but that they are working to make sure student workers are paid the same under stipends. “We’re working to change the ASWSUV bylaws to ensure that student workers are fairly compensated with or without stipends,” he said.
In the December interview, Netzhammer said he understood the resistance to stipends. “Stipends are easier to manage but they come with a huge amount of accountability,” he said. “The hourly [wage] comes with benefits, expectations. People are compensated with the hours they work and they are treated like employees of the institution because they are.”
The distinction between employees and students is part of the justification for the switch. Youlden said student government workers are doing student work. “My interests is in trying to be very deliberate and thoughtful about applying this policy so that we’re not going back and forth.”
Youlden said she does wish that the conversation over stipends would have happened quicker. “I don’t think this is a negative for students,” she said. “I think stipend pay is often how you do this kind of work. It’s not an hourly; it’s more of get this job done.”
In an earlier version of this story we incorrectly paraphrased Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Enrollment Nancy Youlden on student workers. We reported she said student government workers do not deserve benefits and pay like real employees. Youlden actually said that stipends are designed to be more appropriate than hourly wages for student work. In addition, the last sentence of the same story was an editorial comment that should not have been included.