Opinion | Student-athletes couldn’t succeed without other student workers

While debates continue over whether college athletes deserve more compensation for their sport, students in other campus positions are receiving comparable low, unlivable wages.


Yasmina Sahir, Opinions Columnist

University of Iowa and local community members have been very interested in the past few years about amping up the privileges associated with student-athlete status.

With projects underway to increase profits received by UI athletes for use of images and other self-promotional materials, I wish I saw the same momentum in the fight for equitable wages for all student workers on campus.

As students in non-athletic positions on campus struggle to be paid more than $11 per hour, the focus on increasing pay for labor should be placed less on athletes and more on the students who make athletic training and events possible on campus.

The UI minimum wage was $8.20 in the Fall of 2019. This has not changed in 2022.

Part-time jobs on campus commonly held by student employees, including food service, retail, maintenance, library, and parking services averaged $10.80 per hour for the most frequent rate last school year.

UI in-state tuition in 2021-2022 reached $9,942 per year. Even at $11 per hour, a student would have to work approximately 28 hours per week to pay full tuition before excluding taxes from those paychecks.

Both the UI and the federal work study program limit students to 20 hours per week for campus employment during the semester.The federal work study program encourages campuses to keep wages low. Work study eligible students show financial need for employment while in school on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). The program reimburses participating schools 50 percent of wages paid to students awarded work study.

According to UI, the federal work study program does not reimburse colleges and universities the usual 50 percent of work study student wages if that hourly wage exceeds $10.25 per hour. Paying students under or at $10.25 per hour is how the university continues to receive wage reimbursement from the federal government.

Being a student-athlete is a job. Workouts, missing classes due to games, and the high level of expectations inherent with playing for a Division 1 school takes a lot of effort to manage on top of college courses. Student-athletes themselves are not the problem, the system is.

More so than a campus debate about wages, these discussions amplify ideas on essential work that became popular during the pandemic.

If campus cafeterias couldn’t maintain a staff of professionals and students, athletes would not have their nutrition needs met. If the campus grounds and dorms received low maintenance, I wonder if UI would as easily attract prospective student-athletes.

Athletes are important, but so are the students who do the work behind the scenes that allow players to do their best on the field, court, or in the gym.

All students deserve better pay for their labor, athletes included. As a campus community, this discussion often is a point of division. Athletes could choose to leave others behind in this fight or non-athletes could see unfairness in their treatment and become resentful of their athlete peers.

Let’s choose to join together and demand better workforce treatment and wages for everyone. Every job at UI, from football players to maintenance professionals to the people who swipe ID cards in the cafeteria, makes this campus successful.


Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.