House staff sees pay cut, savings go to graduate students

by Sunaina Perera

Media Credit: Serena Williams | Design Assistant

Newly hired house staff will take a pay cut next year as GW sets aside money for graduate student hall assistants.

First-year staffers will make $3,500 next year, about 26 percent less than house staff members earned this year, with the chance to boost their paychecks each year they return to the position. The 84 house staff members also receive free housing.

House staff members work about 20 hours weekly as resident assistants. Returning house staff members this year will keep their $4,750 paychecks. The new rates will go into effect fully starting in the fall of 2014, when first-year staffers will make $3,500, second-year staffers will make $4,000 and third years will make $4,750.

Tim Miller, director of the CSE, said the new pricing levels help balance out its pay to student employees and diverting about $2,000 more to each of the 17 to 18 residence directors who will oversee house staff members next year.

The graduate student staff this year received free housing and earned $5,500 – which Miller called “dramatically less” than their counterparts at similar universities across the nation. Each residence director supervises about a handful of house staffers, but only make $750 more than a house staffer before the redistribution.

Miller said this will encourage house staff and residence directors to come back to the program.

“You want to keep them, you also want to keep them happy. You want to make sure they feel like they’re valued,” Miller said.

Miller said after researching about a dozen peer institutions across the country including Boston and New York universities, his department found they were underpaying graduate students who oversee undergraduate house staff by between $10,000 to $12,000 less than the average for other graduate students in the same roles, when taking into consideration GW’s free housing for staffers.

Resident assistants at New York University receive free housing and meal expenses for the year. At Boston University, resident assistants earn free housing, and if they are in a hall that does not have apartment-style living, they receive a free dining plan.

Before becoming a resident assistant at Emory University, in which staffers live in dorms for free and earn a monthly stipend, students must first spend a year learning the ropes in an unpaid post. Oberlin College does not pay for its resident assistants housing, but gives a monthly stipend.

Miller said even after the redistribution, “we’re not even competing at this point.” Miller added that GW is paying undergraduate house staff members between $2,000 to $7,000 more than the average.

About half of next year’s crop of house staff members is returning next year, Miller said, a figure that is slightly higher than he expected, making the initial shift in budget slight.

And because staffers sometimes use their own money to make treats and hold events for residents, the CSE will stock resource room fridges across campus with soda and cookie dough for residents. There are house staff resource rooms in Thurston Hall, Ivory Tower and on the Mount Vernon Campus.

Miller, a self-described health nut, added that the CSE will also stock the fridges with carrots, celery and dip, though he acknowledged “the power of cookies” to draw residents into house staff events.

This fall, CSE cracked down on house staff’s unnecessary expenses for residents. Miller said he wanted staffers to think strategically about how they spend their money.

One house staff member, who wished to remain anonymous because staff are not authorized to speak on behalf of the department, said compensation was not her motivation to take the job.

“I want to help students take full advantage of the GW experience, and I wanted to be as helpful and influential during the freshman transition period to my residents as my house staff [were] for me,” she said.

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