Students successfully lead initiative to increase the student minimum wage to $7.75 per hour

Credit: Courtesy of Connie Yang Credit: Courtesy of Connie Yang Credit: Courtesy of Evan Wineland Credit: Courtesy of Evan Wineland

Recently, Provost Farnam Jahanian sent an email to the Carnegie Mellon Community to announce the newly implemented increase to the student minimum wage. Implemented on Oct. 17, the new minimum wage increased from $7.25 to $7.75 an hour. Provost Jahanian mentioned that this $0.50 increase originally began "as a student-led proposal." The Tartan spoke with Connie Yang, a senior Math major, and Evan Wineland (DC '16), the students behind this historic initiative who spent about a year seeking to enact this change.

Since being a freshman at Carnegie Mellon, Wineland held an on-campus job every year. Like many other students, he was paying for his college debts on his own and needed to obtain an on-campus job out of necessity. Wineland found that the $7.25 he was making per hour was just not enough. He often had to choose between studying for challenging classes and working to sustain himself financially. His experiences struggling to acquire money, in addition to similar stories he heard from other students, stuck with him and motivated him to pursue this initiative along with Yang.

Wineland and Yang ran for Student Body President and Vice President, respectively, for the 2015–2016 academic year. Raising the $7.25 student minimum wage was one of their main platforms during their campaign. During their research, they found that $7.25 was the federally lowest wage amount the school could offer to students. Additionally, they found that the minimum wage at many peer institutions exceeded that of Carnegie Mellon. Using recent data from 2014, they found that students at peer institutions such as Duke University, Brown University, and Cornell University were receiving minimum wages higher than the federally mandated lowest level. On average, the student minimum wage at our peer institutions is $7.72. Wineland and Yang decided that not only did they want to see the student minimum wage at Carnegie Mellon increase, but they also wanted it to surpass this value.

Wineland and Yang lost the race for Student Body President and Vice President, but they still wanted to deliver on their promise to increase the student minimum wage. They believed that students are a major asset to the university, but the student minimum wage established didn't reflect this.

Yang was on the committee of Proud to Be Plaid, a student alumni association, and during her time there worked to figure out why the spirit on campus wasn't as "go Carnegie Mellon" as it should've been. The association found that students didn't feel that they were valued by the administration. Wineland and Yang believed that raising the minimum wage would be one way to combat this.

Starting last year, Wineland, and Yang, aided by Michael Murphy, the university's previous Vice President for Campus Affairs, met with the finance heads of all six colleges of the university. Convincing them to agree with this initiative took a bit of effort. The university chose not to raise the money needed for this change, so the money ultimately had to come from the budgets of the individual colleges. The student minimum wage committee led one to two hour meetings, once every two weeks for almost a year to come to an agreement on this initiative. "The fact that they were willing to sit down with us and really address and hear why this issue was important was something that we are eternally grateful for," Yang said. During these meetings, the administration and students shared their perspectives and experiences with this issue and discussed how it would impact the university. Ultimately, everyone agreed that this wage increase was necessary and would benefit the university as a whole.

Wineland states that he was blown away by the administration's response and support for this initiative. This experience highlights the fact that if you're really determined and can back up a change you want to implement on campus that will benefit your peers, it can happen. "If there's something that you're really adamant and ardent about pushing though, there are outlets to do so ... The administration is listening and they do want to help ... They want to make the experience at Carnegie Mellon great," Yang said.

While students may talk amongst themselves about issues on campus, this doesn't mean that the administration is aware of these concerns. Yang believes that more students should reach out to the administration about changes they want to see on campus.

Regarding this student-led initiative, Rodney McClendon, Carnegie Mellon's Vice President of Operations, stated, "This action serves as a great example of how students and the university can work together to improve the Carnegie Mellon University experience. I look forward to continue to work with the campus community to identify opportunities and implement changes that enhance the educational and social impact of life at Carnegie Mellon University."

McClendon also noted that the committee considered another $0.75 per hour increase for the 2018 fall academic year, which would bring the student minimum wage to $8.50 per hour. "Analysis and consideration of the proposed FY 18 increase to $8.50 per hour will be taken during the forthcoming budget review process," McClendon said.

While feedback to this recently implemented minimum wage increase has been positive, this is just a start, and students are excited to see how this will progress in the future.