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The University of Maryland College Park, which recently joined the Big Ten athletic conference, raised more than $203 million in donations in fiscal 2015 (File photo)

UM students explore hiking their minimum wage

College is a breeding ground for progressive ideas — and the Student Government Association at the University of Maryland, College Park takes that notion to heart.

The SGA can’t control everything on campus, but it can control the Student Activities Fee. So, SGA members are using that authority to evaluate whether revenue from the fee should be used to raise the minimum wages of certain student workers.

About 130 student workers in a handful of offices are paid with revenue from the Student Activities Fee, a $37-per-semester levy on every UMCP student, according to Brian Nowak, vice president of financial affairs for the SGA.

Nowak said the majority of those students earn minimum wage, currently $7.25 per hour. The SGA is exploring the possibility of raising that wage to $11.50 per hour to imitate Prince George’s County, where UMCP is located and which recently opted to implement an $11.50 minimum by 2017.

But there are still lots of details to iron out before the SGA can decide on a final policy. For one thing, the minimum wage laws of Prince George’s County don’t apply to workers at the University of Maryland, school officials said.

Rather, the university follows state law, which establishes a statewide minimum wage of $10.10 by 2018.

But Nowak, a senior majoring in finance and information systems, is not deterred. Even though the SGA could instead seek a wage that aligns with the statewide minimum, Nowak said he thinks the body should aim higher.

“The state’s wage increase is a smaller dollar amount and takes longer to go into effect,” he said. “With that in mind, it’s even more important that SGA does what it can to improve minimum wage issues on a small scale, in hopes that the university might also decide to be proactive about the issue.”

But at this point, such action by the administration appears unlikely. Linda Clement, vice president for student affairs, said the administration has no “official” stance on the SGA’s idea but that she’s pleased the body is being thorough in its evaluation.

The body voted earlier this month to establish an ad hoc committee to evaluate the pros and cons of the wage hike, analyze the financial impact, draft a timeline for implementation and report back to the full SGA.

That report is due in mid- to late-October, Nowak said. The SGA consists of about 20 student legislators, who vote on various issues, plus 22 students in the executive branch, including Nowak.

The legislature could make a decision on the wage issue as soon as next month based on the committee’s report. Or, the body could take more time to assess different options.

The Student Activities Fee generates about $1.8 million per year, Nowak said. The SGA is in charge of distributing that money. Some of it is used to pay student employees; the rest is distributed to student groups for their programming activities.

Most of the students who are paid with activities fee revenue work for Student Entertainment Events, the office that coordinates concerts, comedy shows and other events on campus.

The rest work for the Undergraduate Student Legal Aid Office, which provides free legal advice, or the Student Organization Resource Center, which supports student groups and helps individuals get involved.

Clement said the SGA needs to carefully consider the implications of raising the wage. “There are so many goods and so many bads” associated with it, she said.

“I think a living wage is great, and students who are working to put themselves through school could certainly use more money,” Clement said. “But if there’s only so much money to spend, it might mean that fewer students get these jobs, or that fewer hours get worked.”

It could also mean less money available for student groups’ programs, she said.

Increasing the Student Activities Fee could mitigate those consequences, but it would require approval by other stakeholder groups, including the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.

“It’s going to come down to, is the money there?” Nowak said. “If it’s not there right now, we’ll have to figure out, when could we actually make this happen?”

About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.