WMU Campus

A Western Michigan University sign by main campus.

While COVID-19 decreased the amount of students on campus, it has also caused a decline in the number of students working on Western Michigan University's campus.

Ewa Urban, director of assessment and effectiveness, said there are normally around 5,500 students, which includes between 800 and 900 graduate assistants, who work on campus for a whole academic year and are paid through the university.

In Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, only 3,200 students were working on campus that were paid through the university, which was a nearly 42% drop from last year. If Summer II were to be included in the numbers, over 4,000 students worked on campus, this would be a 27% drop from the previous year.

The number of jobs paid through Federal Work study funds also dropped from last year. In Fall 2020, there were 119 federal work study jobs that were filled compared to 236 in Fall 2019, nearly a 50% drop from last year. In Spring 2021, there were 116 federal work study jobs filled compared to 225 of them in Spring 2020.

While the numbers are lower than previous years, Urban said this was a temporary drop in job levels.

“Due to COVID-19 and the move to remote learning and student services, the number of student jobs has temporarily decreased,” Urban said. “Many students have continued working in different departments providing services to students online.”

There was another challenge. Filling some positions particularly in Dining Services. For example, in fall 2019, the Valley Dining Center had 2,945 hours which student employees could fill with 17% of shifts going unassigned. In Fall 2020, there were 3,311 hours available to student employees but 32% of the shifts went unfilled. 

In the spring of 2020 right before the COVID-19 pandemic started, 3,034 hours were available to students and 9% of shifts went unassigned but fast forward one year and there were 2,809 hours available for students and 15% of shifts went unassigned.

The increase in unfilled shifts has to do with the intensive service style which caused an increase in available shifts but there were concerns from students about working in person but Nutrition Specialist Emily Hazel said they worked to address safety concerns.

“We added a significant number of measures to make working in person could be done as safely as possible,” Hazel said.

The measures include offering grab’n go as an option, reducing touchpoints, disinfecting times every afternoon using an EPA certified disinfectant designed to kill COVID-19 on surfaces, employee wellness checks, occupancy limits as well as mask wearing and social distancing measures when in a dining center.

The Hoejke/Bigelow dining center was converted into a grab’n go location which results in a limited menu and that meant that 15-20 student positions equalling to 400 hours were lost compared to last year.

Some of the departments with the most student jobs this year were the College of Arts and Sciences with 971 student hires and Dining Services with 917 student hires.

(1) comment

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