Student groups push for higher pay as tuition and housing costs rise
By: Taneen Momeni
Students at the University of Maryland (UMD) are facing growing financial challenges due to increasing tuition and fees, along with rising housing costs. In-state tuition at UMD has gone up by almost 2%, since last year, from $8,824 to $9,000, and out-of-state tuition has risen by approximately 5% during this same period, from $34,936 to $36,683, according to the University System of Maryland (USM) website. Tuition rates have been increasing by these approximate percentages each year since 2018.
Rents in the area are on the rise, as well, both at commercial apartment complexes and two developments that come under the university’s umbrella. South Campus Commons, a public-private partnership between UMD and Capstone On-Campus Management, increased rates this year for the first time since 2020; the 3% increase now pegs the average monthly rate at the Commons at just under $1,170. Rents at Courtyards, the second university-affiliated complex, averaged just under $930 during 2021; rates there are expected to rise by as much as 3%, as well, for fall 2022. And rates at residential developments with boutique amenities — Terrapin Row and The Varsity, for example — are far higher; a studio apartment at Tempo currently lists for as much as $1,834. These increases persist, even as the city’s government and the university’s administration claim to support affordable housing initiatives. And residential developments, particularly high-end developments and even some that are still under construction, are targeting students with aggressive marketing tactics.
“These places are taking advantage of people in a desperate situation, everyone deserves to have a fulfilling college experience and these rent prices are creating a class divide,” UMD sophomore Grace Orellana wrote in a text message.
As costs rise, students who are employed by UMD are sharply focused on stagnant pay in departments throughout the university. In December 2021, USM regents recommended a pay increase to $15 per hour for union-represented student workers. While campus groups celebrated this decision, they quickly turned their attention to securing a $15 minimum wage for all student employees of the university, including workers without union affiliation.
United Terps Against Sweatshops (USAS) and Fearless Student Employees (FSE) are two student organizations on campus advocating for pay equity across departments; the university’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors has supported a number of the students’ efforts.
Orellana, co-chair of the USAS student worker organizing committee, is frustrated by the slow pace of change.
“These places on campus are moving too slow with the wage changes, they have the money and are dragging their feet, it’s as simple as that,” she texted.
FSE media chair Sam DiBella echoed Orellana’s sentiments.
“The fight for a $15 minimum wage has been going on for so long that $15 is no longer a living wage in many places in the US. Student workers, and unpaid positions like resident assistants do so much to make UMD function. They deserve a living wage for doing so.”
In March, USAS representatives met with UMD Vice President of Student Affairs Patty Perillo, who stated that the administration was moving department by department to establish a $15 minimum wage for student employees. According to Orellana, no university department has issued a statement confirming this action.
USAS and other campus organizations advocating for fair wages still have their work cut out for them as they host forums, meet with administration and spread the word.
“UMD needs university wide change, now! But the university administration isn’t even willing to openly stand in solidarity with the workers they’re in charge of,” Orellana wrote. “A change needs to happen. Now.”