This blog series features different writers responding to the prompt, “What is the future of the RA role?”
Guest Post by Michelle Kinney, Professional Staff Member
As we look at the future of the Resident Assistant role across college campuses around the nation, we must first understand that the disparity in pay could greatly affect the type of work we can require of our student employees. For instance, a small, liberal arts university in the Midwest pays their RAs a stipend during the year and charges their students the lowest rate room. A mid-size, public institution in the South pays their students the federal minimum wage and charges their students half the cost of their room unless the RA has a suitemate or apartment mate assigned to them.
As the corporate world was shaken by the great resignation and the nation saw that people no longer want to settle for pay that does not pay the bills, it is reasonable to expect Resident Assistants to start speaking out about their pay and ask doe, if not demand, more money. Most fast-food restaurants have raised their minimum wages to between $12 an hour and $15. Target raised their minimum wage range from $15 to $24 an hour and is offering health care to those who work more than 25 hours a week. Students are no longer looking to work in hopes of having money to cover the cost of fun activities; they are trying to put themselves through school and not have to take out a large sum of loans to survive.
The cost of tuition at public institutions increased 31.4% from 2010 to 2020. And overall, since 1963, tuition has increased 747.8% after adjusting for currency inflation. Students are trying to find reasonable ways to graduate without amassing a huge amount of debt and to have savings to live after college. Resident Assistant roles are no longer significantly lowering the cost of higher education for students. We are seeing our upperclassmen trying to move off campus in hopes of finding cheaper rent and a job that pays more than $12 an hour.
If the student affairs field wants to continue to recruit quality Resident Assistants, then there needs to be a shift to covering all housing costs and paying a wage that is $12 an hour or more. It has been shown that to retain good employees and to grow as a business, the company (or college/university in this case) needs to be willing to pay all employees what they are worth. Including their student employees. Once the pay level has been established, then our field can begin to examine how the Resident Assistant role will evolve.
We want to motivate our Resident Assistants and hold them to the highest standards. However, that is hard to do if they are having to obtain work outside of the department or university. When our RAs are devoting more time to other jobs, they have less opportunity to develop community. They have less opportunity to be a mentor to potential new RAs. They have less opportunity to have conversations with residents that can elicit growth. As a field, we need to do better at paying our professionals equitably, but we also need to do a better job paying our students equitably as well. Students deserve to work a job that pays them to live as well.