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Reviews | Student-athletes could not succeed without other student workers

While debates continue over whether college athletes deserve more pay for their sport, students in other positions on campus receive comparable, low and unlivable salaries.


The University of Iowa and members of the local community have shown great interest in recent years in enhancing the privileges associated with student-athlete status.

With plans underway to increase the benefits received by athletes from the UI for using images and other self-promotional materials, I would like to see the same momentum in the fight for fair wages for all student workers on campus.

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

The Unemployment Insurance minimum wage was $8.20 in the fall of 2019. This has not changed in 2022.

Part-time on-campus jobs typically done by students, including food service, retail, maintenance, library and parking services, averaged $10.80 per hour for the rate the most frequent last year.

State unemployment insurance tuition in 2021-22 reached $9,942 per year. Even at $11 an hour, a student would have to work about 28 hours a week to pay full tuition before excluding taxes from those paychecks.

Unemployment Insurance and the Federal Work Study Program limit students to 20 hours per week for on-campus employment during the semester. The federal labor study program encourages campuses to keep salaries low. Students eligible for work studies show financial need for employment while in school on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). The program reimburses participating schools for 50% of the salaries paid to students who have obtained an internship.

According to UI, the federal work-study program does not reimburse colleges and universities for the usual 50% of student work-study wages if that hourly wage exceeds $10.25 per hour. Paying students less than $10.25 an hour or $10.25 an hour is how the university continues to receive federal salary reimbursement.

Being a student-athlete is a job. Practices, missed classes due to games, and the high level of expectations inherent in playing for a Division 1 school take a lot of effort to manage on top of college classes. The student-athletes themselves are not the problem, the system is.

More than a campus debate over wages, these talks amplify ideas about essential work that have become popular during the pandemic.

If campus cafeterias could not maintain a staff of professionals and students, the nutritional needs of athletes would not be met. If the grounds and dorms on campus received little maintenance, I wonder if the user interface would attract potential student-athletes so easily.

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

All students deserve better compensation for their work, including athletes. As a campus community, this discussion is often a point of division. Athletes might choose to leave others behind in this fight or non-athletes might see injustice in their treatment and feel resentment towards their fellow athletes.

Let’s choose to unite and demand better treatment of labor and wages for all. Every job at UI, from soccer players to maintenance professionals to people swiping ID cards in the cafeteria, makes this campus a success.


The columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the editorial board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations with which the author may be involved.


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