The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

RAs raise concern about compensation

By Tom Lisi

Residential Assistants Matt Ecklund ’09 and Megan Ritchie ’09 attended a conference in late 2006 that focused on Residential Life programs of Minnesota colleges and universities. At the conference they discovered that they were among the lowest paid RAs in the Twin Cities region.Ecklund and Ritchie decided to take action and compiled research on how neighboring Minnesota colleges pay their RAs. Ecklund and Ritchie’s data, which reflects the 2005-2006 year, found that RAs at Carleton, St. Olaf and Augsburg receive higher monetary compensation than RAs at Macalester.

Macalester’s compensation of RAs includes only a room subsidy, totaling $4,334. Returning RAs receive the room subsidy with an additional $500 stipend.

When they start their jobs, Macalester RAs are given the choice to pay the cost of their rooms outright, which is reimbursed at the end of the academic year-or to receive a balance of debt from the school. A bi-weekly check pays off the debt throughout the year.

These bi-weekly checks have taxes deducted from them. In other words, RAs have their room taxed, something Keith Edwards, director of campus life, noted as unusual.

Not all schools reimburse in the same way. At Carleton, dorm rooms cost $700 more than at Macalester, but RAs receive an additional $3,000 stipend. The college does not cover board costs, which total $4,545, according to Carleton’s website.

At St. Thomas, where room and board fees are cheaper than at Macalester, RAs receive room, board, and a $450 stipend. The package amounts to around $6,000 in total RA compensation.

Ecklund and Ritchie took their research to Associate Director of Residential Life Peg Olson last winter to discuss the evident shortcomings of RA compensation at Macalester.

Ecklund said of last year’s meeting with Olson, “She was very friendly, but she didn’t really do anything.”

Ecklund continued, saying that he and Ritchie did not hear back from Olson after their meeting. Ritchie said that she and Ecklund hope to revisit the issue with staff soon.

Olson, who is currently on maternity leave, could not be reached for comment.

Edwards said he has received Ecklund and Ritchie’s data from last year, and found it inconclusive. “I can’t really say the difference in pay is a concern until I know what the responsibilities are of RA’s at these schools,” he said.

The distinct role and responsibility of RAs, though, may prove a difficult one to acutely pin down. Ecklund and Ritchie attempted to calculate a per hour wage, which came out to roughly $5 an hour. But as RA Collin Cousins ’10 pointed out, “Spending an hour in the office is a lot different than spending an hour cleaning the vomit off of a first-year. It doesn’t work to really think of it in hours.”

Hamline University student Chad Henderson was an RA last year, and said he was reimbursed for his room and for half the cost of Hamline’s 19 meal-perweek plan (both cost very close to those of Macalester’s). His situation offers a rare direct comparison, as his girlfriend is a Macalester student and RA. He noted that the two jobs were very similar in nature. But unlike Macalester RAs, Hamline RAs do not have office hours.

The possibility of renegotiating RA compensation comes at a particularly fragile time, as Residential Life and Campus Programs have recently dealt with the growing pains of their new staff structure and configuration.

Edwards was hired this summer as director of Campus Life, a position that oversees both Campus Programs and Residential Life. Though briefed on last year’s meeting by Olson, Edwards has not yet considered whether RA compensation should increase, but said he is “very interested in a conversation.”

Edwards’ new position was created by the administration in hopes of bridging Campus Programs with Residential Life. Part of this new vision involves a modest reinvention of the RA job.

Dean of Students Jim Hoppe said that with Campus Programs and Residential Life under one umbrella, RAs would do things like promote campus events in hopes of strengthening community.

RA Andy Pragacz ’10 echoed this idea, saying that part of RA training this year included discussion on how to foster a closer relationship with residential course advisors. Yet, Pragacz notes that this idea has not been pursued further in meetings so far this year.

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