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Monday, May 27, 2024 — Houston, TX

Student workers matter

By Denise Maldonado and Sarah Sowell     4/9/24 11:10pm

Sarah Sowell and Denise Maldonado

Editor’s Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors.

It is commonly accepted at Rice that our plates are always full. Beyond keeping up with our demanding coursework, Rice students are involved in a variety of research opportunities, administrative work, community advocacy and so much more. Our classmates are integral to our favorite student-run businesses and world-class research, and you can even find them giving tours to prospective students all around the year. In short, undergraduate employment is a core aspect of the Rice experience. 



The Student Association’s Labor Commission recently conducted a study of 326 current undergraduate students, finding that over 66% of current Rice students have held a job on campus at any point. When only considering upperclassmen, 90% of students have been employed at Rice. Even with this large percentage, many students seemingly do not consider themselves to be a part of the labor force despite spending hundreds of hours each semester working for Rice in various capacities, and accept low wages and opaque hiring practices. 

Though a large portion of undergraduate students may not necessarily see themselves as workers, it does not mean they shouldn’t receive a livable wage and full working protections. According to our survey, the average Rice student earns $12/hour, yet there remains a sizable population of student employees who work for much less. In the fourth-largest city in the nation, Houston’s minimum wage remains at the federally mandated rate of $7.25 an hour. $20 is considered a livable wage — so why are so many Rice undergraduate students earning less than half of that? 

We recognize that not every Rice student depends on their research position, teaching assistant job or tour-guiding to pay bills. However, a significant 25% of students do depend on their jobs – either on or off-campus — to pay for their living expenses (think groceries, rent, tuition or familial obligations). Given that 1 in 4 students require employment in order to make ends meet, it is time for Rice to raise the minimum wage for its student workers. 

This is not an unpopular proposition. Over 65% of students across different graduation years, colleges, races and income levels support raising the minimum wage for students. Our official recommendation as the Student Labor Commission is that Rice should raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2026, with possible exemptions for some student-run businesses.

Furthermore, there is an ongoing conversation regarding the underpaid labor from Rice’s student leaders. For example, when considering all of the work that goes into O-Week coordination, these stipends amount to mere pennies an hour. Whether the conversation is about O-Week or residential college presidents, Rice University relies on undergraduate student labor. Administration says it values its student leaders, but their lack of investment in student leaders’ compensation speaks for itself. 

Beyond raising the minimum wage for student workers, there is an obvious need for institutional support in finding and maintaining employment at Rice. Finding the best-fit for research, TAing or office role at Rice can be unclear and complicated. Some professors make individual selections, while others may require contacting administrative hiring managers; oftentimes, these roles are passed down through informal recommendations by peers. By only working through opaque recruitment networks, Rice employers open themselves up to implicit bias and unfair hiring practices

It is time for every paying role at Rice to be posted on 12twenty so that undergraduate students know what roles are available, how much they pay and if they are work-study eligible. This is a win-win for students and employers. Students would know what jobs are available and what they pay, allowing them to identify career-relevant opportunities while employers have a wider pool of students to pick from. 

Students can also advocate for themselves in the workforce. If you’ve been given a promotion, increased responsibilities or have been at your current job for over two years, negotiate with your employer for a raise. If you feel that your current role is underpaying you compared to peers, leverage the SA Labor Commission searchable database of student worker information to see what peers are making at similar jobs. If you work somewhere at Rice that is hiring, encourage your boss to post the role on 12twenty and include the salary in the job description. As students, we can work to support each other through advocating within and outside of the workplace.

Our tendency as students to put academic responsibilities first should not diminish the overwhelming need for fair pay and equitable working conditions among Rice student-workers. It’s time for Rice to consider the needs of often forgotten undergraduate students by raising the minimum wage while increasing hiring transparency. After all, the university couldn’t run without us. 



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