Opinion | Working 20 hours a week doesn’t always pay the bills

Students should have the option to work their campus jobs more than 20 hours per week if needed to support themselves.


Yasmina Sahir, Opinions Columnist

Working 20 hours a week doesn’t make ends meet.

The University of Iowa caps student campus jobs at 20 hours per week during the academic semester, which gives little regard for low-income and financially independent students.

Financial stress can motivate students to withdraw from their university courses. A 2021 study found 42 percent of higher education dropouts leave school because of financial strain. The same study found 65 percent of students who leave their courses earn below $50,000 per year.

Students should be able to depend on their campus jobs to afford living costs while in school. Removing the 20-hour work week limit during the semester would be a positive first step forward.

I chose to leave my on-campus employment recently for a few reasons. One reason is that my pay after two years was not increasing in comparison to the cost of living in Iowa City. Low pay plus the 20 hour limit meant I would have to work multiple jobs at a time to cover my basic needs like housing, food, transportation, and textbooks.

Federal work study guidelines state that work study positions do not need to pay more than the federal minimum wage unless the school employer chooses to do so based on required skills, non-traditional scheduled hours, or number of service years.

The current federal minimum wage remains $7.25, the same as Iowa’s minimum wage.

At the UI, many jobs on Handshake advertise starting wages at approximately $10-$11 per hour. Although this is above the $7.25 minimum wage, it still isn’t enough to afford housing, food, and school supplies comfortably.

Some UI jobs pay above the $10-$11 per hour. Cambus services always have a need for student drivers, and dispatchers and have recently been advertising a $17 per hour wage. But that doesn’t mean students making more money feel financially secure.

“Since I’ve worked at Cambus for a few years, I earn $21.10 per hour,” UI undergraduate Shelby Mutter said. “We’re scheduled for a minimum of 14 hours per week and can pick up shifts totaling up to 40 hours. This just goes to prove that even at a higher wage, we need to work more than 20 hours a week to pay bills in Iowa City.”

In Johnson County, the current salary needed to live comfortably as a single person is $28,781.91 per year, according to Common Good Iowa. Dividing this salary by 20-hour work weeks shows that student employees constrained by the current policy would need to earn slightly above $27 per hour to cover the average cost of living in Iowa for a single adult.

With recent pushback from the state Board of Regents against raise demands from the UI graduate student union, receiving an extra $15 per hour on top of the average student wage seems impossible.

The other solution is to allow students to work up to full time while in school, as is allowed during the winter, spring, and summer breaks, according to state of Iowa work study guidelines. The same salary divided into 40 hour working weeks means students could get by on a $13-14 per hour wage, making this solution perfect for both students and the UI.

Choice is key in ensuring all students have access to campus employment in a way that benefits them and their financial situations. Allowing students to work more hours can ease financial and scheduling stress.

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.