After a contentious back and forth, a two percent increase in pay for resident assistants next year was announced last Wednesday.
However, those RAs can also expect to face more work and fewer colleagues, as the Office of Residence Life (ORL) reported a smaller pool of applicants for 2019-20 staffing. Last year, 371 students applied. This past January, ORL received only 305 applications.
ORL Assistant Director Sarah Meaney explained that budgeting and a change in leadership led to the decision to hire 25 fewer RAs, aiming for an standard 1:30 ratio of residents to RAs across the university.
The RA community has been cognizant of the compensation practices at other universities.
Last year, Assistant Director of Residence Life Colleen Bunn completed a benchmarking study about RA pay. She found that of the 59 schools analyzed, 38 provided room and board as compensation. Forty-one percent of Miami RAs showed a preference for housing fee coverage with a lower salary.
Resident assistants this year at Miami receive a minimum starting stipend of $8,864, as of fall 2017, paid out in portions over the ten month school year. It is Ohio University's practice to waive all of the room fee and give a $3,158 stipend per year.
The stipend increase is in line with the two percent increase in annual tuition for each new incoming class, according to the Board of Trustees Feb. 16 meeting minutes.
A second year RA who will not be returning next year and spoke on condition of anonymity, took issue with the increased workload and the stipend increase.
He preferred what he described as an ideal alternative: smaller stipend amounts, free room and board and the elimination of requiring a meal plan. Many RAs have learned that the current model is modest when it comes to covering the cost of living.
"I can't help but think that a slight stipend nudge is not appropriate compensation for the increased responsibilities that now fall on future RAs," he said.
ORL's announcement of the stipend bump spelled out the exact stipend amounts for next year's RAs. First-time RAs will earn $9,041 over the ten month school year, making it less than $260 per week before taxes.
Second-year RA Ben Deeter remains optimistic. He applied again because he considers it "a great and rewarding job," but suspects others aren't opting in due to policy changes.
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The implementation of the one-door policy and mandatory office hours are among the additional tasks that have been added to the RA contract recently, an agreement which ORL has the power to add or remove responsibilities of the position at any time.
RA and ASG senator Michael Meleka has raised concerns about the changes through resolutions during Senate. He is worried these policies and increased responsibilities are not proportional to RAs' salaries.
"The issue is those [resolutions] are simply a stamp of approval from the student body," Meleka said. "It's up to the administration to implement and hear the student body. It is ASG's job to be that voice."
Meaney spoke on the behalf of ORL's position.
"Our new Director of Residence Life, Vicka Bell-Robinson, is making lots of positive changes in the department as our unit vision begins to align more and more with President Crawford's strategic plan."
At his annual State of the University address in October of 2017, Crawford spoke about the importance of a more holistic, inclusive and social residence hall experience, fostering "increased intellectual integration."
There are many offices involved in the conversation including the H.O.M.E. office, financial aid, the Bursar's Office, legal counsel and the Dean of Students office.
ORL has further finalized the restructuring of RA compensation. Stipend amounts will be equal to the rate of the particular room type plus a boarding supplement. Additionally, there will be an RA allowance.
The second-year RA also shared his concerns for the future, despite the well-meaning intentions of the office.
"Unless the university becomes more transparent, compensates RAs better, and rationalizes policies appropriately, the future of the Office of Residence Life looks more like a police state that the utopiac depiction of Miami that students are promised in their orientation."
It is ORL's intention to stand with RAs, as Bell-Robinson responded.
"I, and those with whom I work, care deeply about student well-being and are committed to continuously improving the student experience," she said. "I am always willing to meet with students who have questions about how and why decisions are being made."