The Office of Residential Life and the Office of Student Financial Services announced for Residential Advisors (RA) in response to concerns that RAs are not paid equitably. The plan, which was announced on Thursday, will take effect in the 2019-2020 school year. RAs will be considered student employees and receive a yearly $5,100 stipend. In addition, their housing will now be considered non-taxable income, and therefore it will not affect financial aid.
In March, The News-Letter reported that RAs who receive financial aid were concerned that their out-of-pocket (OOP) costs, which include tuition and room and board, had not decreased significantly since accepting the position. RAs who do not receive financial aid saw a dramatic decrease in their overall OOP costs.
Current RAs Kush Mansuria and Eric Huang spoke to The News-Letter about the impact they hope these changes will have on future RAs.
“Personally I think this is a good change,” Mansuria said. “If this had been happening when I’d been an RA this year, I know that the impact to my package would have been significant; it really would have been a benefit to me. While I can’t enjoy that, I can still appreciate the fact that this will be something that happens for next year.”
Previously, RAs received free room and board in the form of a grant which would have totaled over $17,000 for the 2019-2020 academic year. According to RAs who receive financial aid, the RA Grant is partially or totally subtracted from need-based grants awarded to students by the University.
The cost of the RA meal plan, which is valued at $7,160, will continue to be waived and therefore subtracted from received aid.
Allison Avolio, director of residential life stated in an email to The News-Letter that the RA meal plan was waived in order to maintain equity between aided and non-aided students.
“An important goal of the enhancement was to create equity in the compensation package for aided and non-aided students, and this was accomplished by shifting the housing portion of the total benefit to non-taxable income. If we were to have included the meal plan benefit in the same fashion, it would have upset the balance we were seeking to achieve in total compensation,“ Avoilio wrote.
Avolio described how the $5,100 stipend amount was chosen.
“A typical work-study award to students is $2,700 for the academic year and is based on the assumption that a student will work 10-12 hours per week regularly throughout the academic year,“ she wrote. “Recognizing that RAs generally work 15-20 hours per week, the stipend we chose reflects that assumption.”
Huang noted that the new stipend might incentivize more students to apply for RA positions. He gave the example of a student already receiving full tuition, room and board through an outside scholarship program.
“That 5K stipend would still give them a financial incentive of being an RA, even though the housing and board effectively doesn’t matter to them on a net scale,“ he said. “I think that’s the pro in that it gives people of different financial backgrounds an incentive to become an RA.”
Huang felt the stipend could also offset potential lost income which a student may have earned had they taken a different on-campus job rather than become an RA.
“I would say overall it’s fair. Obviously if they added more on to the stipend I think it would be better, but this level should be beneficial for students, and students will see incentive for becoming an RA,” he said.
Mansuria further commented that he was surprised at how quickly the administration was able to complete the new compensation plan.
“To be honest I was quite doubtful, because it's a big task, and I didn’t expect them to work as quickly as they did. They really surpassed my expectations,” Mansuria said.
On Nov. 29, Huang and Mansuria released with five demands to ensure that changes in RA compensation will be equitable, transparent and accountable for future years. The demands included drafting a new RA compensation plan and holding a review process to evaluate the plan every semester.
“RAs have been... bringing this issue up for the past five years, except they’ve been raising it with [Director of Residential Life Allison Avolio],” Huang said. “There’s been a lot of bureaucratic red tape where we feel like RA voices weren’t being heard, and thus the administrators didn’t feel like there was a need to do anything. So then we had to resort to other measures like bringing more publicity to this.”
Huang emphasized the need for transparency going forward as well as communication between future RAs and administration.
“The main objective of having that transparency element is to make sure in the future if they do need to change elements of RA compensation, RAs don’t have to go through such lengths in order to get their voices heard,” Huang said.
Avolio addressed the need for transparency by stating that the new compensation plan will be reviewed annually.
“Residential Life will tackle the formal and informal feedback from the RAs currently employed by including questions in the various opportunities for student staff to provide feedback to the department (each semester and annually),“ Avoilio wrote. “Student Financial Services would include this in their annual review as well. Both offices will continue to communicate and meet semi-regularly to share input, experiences, and handle any necessary troubleshooting.”
Mansuria believes that only future RAs will be able to judge the efficacy of the plan, and therefore emphasized the importance of the University having a plan to gather these opinions going forward.
“This plan isn’t going into place until next academic year. So at this point we know the changes are coming, but the follow-up on that is going to be something for future RAs,” he said.
Alyssa Wooden contributed reporting.