No one enters the student affairs field to become rich.
Most of us become practitioners because we found meaning in the work and want to contribute to the field and to students. While the meaning behind the work can, and frequently does, motivate us to do more and do better, the economics of student affairs, particularly from graduate school to the first professional job, are worth analyzing. Forbes recently named Education the number four worst masters degree and Counseling the number seven worst maters degree and breaks down why. The mid-career median pay is usually less the $68000, and the job prospects are not projected to grow relative to the number of people seeking a position in the industry.
Those financial theories and thoughts come to life when you’re in the field. So my final thought during a previous #SAChat was “where does student affairs as an industry contribute to the paycheck-to-paycheck living and to overall lower financial well-being?”
The cliche “you need to spend money to make money” proves true, especially when looking for the first position after graduate school. Having spoken to a number of individuals, the stories range. Some SA Grads get their first professional job at the graduate institution and the cost of their job search probably was not particularly high. Others do a regional search, again with a comparatively lower cost. Others do a national search, attend a regional or national placement exchange, or partake in a few on-campus interviews.
Those costs rack up.
Depending on the institution, some will reimburse a percentage or a fixed number of the total cost to arrive on campus, while others will stipulate reimbursement based on outcome of the recruitment (i.e. if you accept the position, you will be reimbursed 100%, if you decline an offer you will receive no recompense).
When you’re in your entry-level position, the culture of the institution will dictate some parts of your life that may well have an impact on your wallet. For example, does your school provide you a work phone? If not, and you’re talking to students after-hours, responding to email on your phone, or serve on a duty rotation, those may well affect your cell phone bill. Granted, some schools and areas will provide a second phone or pay for a portion of your phone bill, but not all of them will. One month at my entry-level position, I went well over my allotted data plan, as I was on duty and needed to respond to a number of urgent emails after hours in an area on campus without wifi. Along the same vein, most entry-level positions will be salaried, as opposed to hourly. And as is the case, the expectation will be that you work 40 hours to make that salary, but many times, particularly around August and May and especially if your position has a crisis response function, you will go over that 40 hours. Again, depending on the school or the area, there may be no reimbursement for that time other than highlighting a job description that lists “may work over 40 hours.”
When you’re ready to move up, that comes with financial ramifications as well. Take residence life for example. There are a multitude more entry-level jobs in residence life than most other areas in student affairs. When you are ready for the next step up, the question becomes, is it worth staying in residence life, with more duty response and potentially the loss of free housing, when you can get a challenging position outside of ResLife. Let’s say a residence director becomes an assistant director in student activities. Their pay increase may seem appealing on paper, but the loss of free, possibly furnished, housing puts a huge strain on the monthly finances. Take a 2-bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment in Albany, renting at $775. That three figure bill, including utilities, may lead to a lower paycheck per month than the individual made as an RD.
There may not be a systematic solution to this issue. It’s not possible for schools to simply pay administrators more, especially in an age where bloated funding is constantly under scrutiny. For some it may not even be an issue to begin with. But for others, particularly in student affairs that draws from an incredibly diverse population, these are issues that need to be talked about, before it becomes a reality. Check out the #SAChat from July 23rd for some insight and helpful tips on managing the paycheck-to-paycheck life.
“Evaluating the benefits of a master’s degree is not just about the potential for higher pay, but also about the opportunities it will bring, the skills and knowledge it can provide, and overall satisfaction,” says Katie Bardaro, Payscale’s lead economist, quoted in the Forbes pieces, echoing a key statement that got us all into student affairs in the first place.