This article is part of a Michigan Daily effort to increase coverage of issues related to diversity, inclusion and identity on campus. Read more about the initiative here.
In his inaugural address last month, University President Mark Schlissel was clear about the role socio-economic status should play in a student’s ability to attend the University.
“Students and their parents must hear clearly and rest secure that the University of Michigan values curiosity and intellect, not ZIP codes or family income,” he said.
However, the socio-economic status of the University’s undergraduate population is not evenly distributed. In Fall 2011, 63 percent of incoming freshmen reported family incomes over $100,000, according to the Office of the Registrar. A 2012 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau stated the median family income in the United States is $51,324.
In addition to the challenges in ensuring access to higher education for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, said in a September interview with The Michigan Daily the University’s difficulty finding students to fill campus jobs could be a side effect of the higher-than-average family income for University students.
She said a wealthier student body could be one reason it has been harder for University employers such as residence halls and dining halls to recruit students for open positions. If students have more financial support from their parents, these students may be less likely to seek a campus job.
While Steve Mangan, University director of dining, wrote in an e-mail that he didn’t feel comfortable speculating about the cause of the trend, he said there has been a noticeable change over the past few years in the availability of student workers.
“This year has been particularly challenging to fill the number of positions we need at the beginning of the fall term, specifically for dining and recreational sports and positions in the Unions,” said University Housing Spokesman Peter Logan in an interview.
The University’s Student Life Auxiliaries, which includes University Housing, University Unions and Recreational Sports, facilitates approximately 4,000 jobs for students per year, including summer positions. Six hundred jobs are offered for students in University Housing, 1,800 jobs in Michigan Dining, 600 in University Unions, 700 in Recreational Sports and 200 in Conference and Event Services.
Over the past two years Student Life Auxiliaries have increased the number of job opportunities as they have enhanced dining services and facilities and increased the number of positions within the unions and Recreational Sports.
To meet those needs and address declining student availability for campus jobs, Student Auxiliaries have undertaken a more aggressive effort to recruit students this year, hosting three job fairs, using direct mail and stationing student ambassadors at summer orientation to answer the questions of students and parents.
“(These efforts) have not brought forth the number of applicants we would like to have in the student auxiliaries to get started in the season,” Logan said.
In August, Michigan Dining hired approximately 150 non-student temporary workers to help make up from empty student job positions and an increased need as the new Central Campus dining operation opened in South Quad.
Logan said one explanation for the trend could be as the number of freshman applications increase, admissions standards rise and the types of students who attend the University are even more focused on excelling in their academic and extra-curricular pursuits.
“It just may be as Michigan has become more competitive, the students we are receiving are perhaps more inclined to put academics first,” he said.
If this trend continues, whatever the reasons, Logan said it could have important consequences.
“Not having as many students as we need can influence our operational cost,” he said. “We need a considerable student workforce to help us with our delivery of services and programs.”
Outside of Student Auxiliaries, the Office of Student Employment posts more than4,000 job opportunities, including work-study and non-work-study positions. Those employment rates have remained fairly stable, ranging from a high of 3,775 and a low of 3,573 occupied positions.
The Work-Study program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, provides part time jobs for students to assist them in paying for tuition. These jobs could range from teaching reading in a preschool classroom to working as a lab assistant or at a University library.
“Student employees provide an important portion of the local workforce, whether Work-Study or non-Work-Study,” Susan Frierson, assistant director for Student Employment wrote in an e-mail interview. “Like all staff everywhere, they contribute to the workflow of offices and organizations, both on and off campus.”
Education senior Joe Cooling funds his tuition through income he earns from his campus jobs, as well as scholarships from the University’s Office of Financial Aid, summer job income and some student loans.
“I would definitely say it has been a financial need to fund my education,” he said.
LSA junior Victoria Rilett also funds the entirety of her tuition with an LSA merit scholarship and the income she earns from campus and summer jobs.
Rilett works 12 hours a week, split between the Towsley Children’s House, the Center for Educational Outreach and as a student assistant for the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program.
Rilett worked 50- to 60- hour weeks this summer in a psychology lab through the University’s Undergraduate Research Program and at Pizza House to earn enough to pay this semester’s tuition.
“The culture of my town is that you have a job, all of my friends had jobs, I’ve had a job since I was 16 years old,” Rilett said. “I didn’t realize how wealthy certain people are and how much that would affect their college experience.”
After arriving on campus her freshman year, she said she realized the type of money her peers were spending on dinners in restaurants, movie tickets and clothes was different from her own.
“The hard part was I had a lot of friends whose parents would pay for them to go out and go shopping and buy dinner and my parents don’t do that,” Rilett said. “I needed to get a job or find different friends.”
LSA sophomore Noah Holton-Raphael does not have a job on campus. He receives $300 a month from his parents for personal expenses, including food, trips, activities and clothing, though he worked this past summer in the food service industry to save money for these types of expenditures.
“I haven’t needed a job, as of yet, but I’ll probably be getting a job next semester,” he said.
Despite anecdotal evidence that changing family incomes are influencing student employment, there is a lack of available data to offer a conclusive explanation.
The University’s enrollment figures do not include data on family income, since the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the entity that collects information on an applicant’s family income.
The most recently available figures report the families of 76 percent of the University’s out-of-state undergraduates earn more than $150,000 annually, compared to 72 percent in 2002. For in-state students, 59 percent of in-state students in 2002 had family incomes greater than $150,000. By 2012 that number shrank to 50 percent, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Education listed in the University’s most recent Office of Budget and Planning almanac.
Though this data does not paint the entire picture, since applicants who did not apply for financial aid through FAFSA are included in the category of family incomes over $150,000, the numbers do illustrate a rough view of the student body’s socio-economic composition.
“For in-state students, we’re actually seeing increased socio-economic diversity,” University Provost Martha Pollack said in an interview in early October. “It hasn’t really gotten worse, but where we haven’t seen a change, is out of state.”
However, the data does not disaggregate incomes over $150,000. University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University does not collect separate data on family income, apart from the information it receives from FAFSA.
“There is no appropriate way to ask students what their family’s income is,” he said.
In recent years, the University has ramped up financial support for in-state students, financed in part by out-of-state students who enroll at the University and can pay the full tuition cost.
Still, the University has pledged to improve affordability and University access as part of a larger effort to increase student-body diversity.
“It certainly affects the nature of the community if we don’t provide adequate financial aid, and the student body as a consequence on average becomes wealthier and wealthier,” Schlissel said in an October interview with the Daily. “Because that doesn’t lead necessarily to the kind of diversity that will help your education be as good as it can be.”