LTTE: CSU employees deserve to earn a livable wage for the work they do

LTTE%3A+CSU+employees+deserve+to+earn+a+livable+wage+for+the+work+they+do

Collegian | Trin Bonner

Guest Author

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board. Letters to the Editor reflect the view of a member of the campus community and are submitted to the publication for approval.

In 2013, I moved to Fort Collins as a single parent and sole provider of three children, who at the time were in grades three, four and six. I had a dream of coming back to college at 37 and pulling my children and myself out of poverty to change our family trajectory. I applied for every scholarship, loan and grant that I was able to. 

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Our family moved into international family housing, and I started back on my undergraduate degree in human development and family studies at Colorado State University. I loved every second of my education and felt that I would be able to graduate and pay off the loans. I was a peer advisor in the department of human development and family studies and was ready to apply to every single position in advising as an academic success coordinator as possible.

I graduated and applied to several ASC jobs on campus and was not called back even once. Every position required a master’s degree. I applied to the counseling and career development master’s program and was accepted.

“My student loans are around $150,000 for an amazing CSU education — one that CSU itself does not value enough to pay its employees a living wage.” 

There were not any scholarships or stipends for this program, but it was the only one that would both allow me to meet the requirements to become an academic success coordinator and help me make enough money to improve the lives of myself and my children, showing them that hard work pays off and education is of the utmost importance.

I worked as a part-time advisor in several departments during my time in graduate school, including human development and family studies and psychology (at one point, both simultaneously), and finally, in 2018 I started working with what we now call exploratory studies. I started at $20 an hour, which seemed generous, and I was able to live and support my children with student loans and my paycheck each month.

Once I had graduated in May of 2020, I was able to secure a full-time temporary position as an ASC in exploratory studies, which was both a huge relief and left a feeling of insecurity not knowing if I would be kept on or not. During this journey, my children and I experienced housing insecurity, moving three times in six months trying to find an affordable place to live. 

I was doing OK at $42,000 during the pandemic with the extra checks we were getting from the government, along with Medicaid and food stamps. I was so excited to finally get a raise to $46,000; I was moving up in the world and so happy for my children to see my success and benefit from it. Sadly, that raise to $46,000 forfeited my assistance benefits, requiring me to pay for benefits from CSU. This set me back financially.

During this time, I applied for a home that I was eager to build with Habitat for Humanity. I worked for months getting the paperwork together to turn in only to be refused because of my student loans — the same loans that are required to earn a master’s to be eligible to work as an ASC at CSU.

My student loans are around $150,000 for an amazing CSU education — one that CSU itself does not value enough to pay its employees a living wage. 

“When will our voices be enough? How much more asking, pleading and sacrificing must we do to be heard and taken seriously? While this can go from committee to committee, meeting to meeting, waiting on the numbers, waiting on the research — you have our voices, and we are the ones who work here.”

Last November, when the cost of living began to increase significantly, I realized there was just no way that I would be able to afford my apartment unless I got a second night and weekend job that paid significantly. I went back to massage therapy (my previous career). I did that and was exhausted all the time.

This took away from my ability to perform well in advising — my passion. I had nothing to offer, or so I felt. My self-esteem and life satisfaction had significantly decreased, and I had a constant feeling of failure. I was not able to stay late and catch up on emails, which is required for this position.

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Since March 2022, I have been working as a counselor at Beyond the Mirror, which added another 20-30 hours to my work week. I felt as though I was dying inside as I was just starting to make ends meet. I could not see the light at the end of this tunnel, and the promise of a raise was delayed multiple times.

The promise of good news with a better salary every month or so was fruitless. I could not handle that much and tried to put my notice in at exploratory studies, offering to stay through the semester. I was generously offered a part-time permanent position so that I could keep my benefits, which I was thrilled about, but once I looked at the numbers, I realized that I was only earning $15 an hour with benefits.

I do not know how anyone in a career that requires a master’s degree and has a family can expect to live on this salary. I have had more health issues from this stint in my life after earning my master’s degree.

Please take this seriously. I speak not only for myself but for my colleagues who also are looking for another source of income or are just out of graduate school and living with four other people in a college home so they can afford to live and work here.

When will our voices be enough? How much more asking, pleading and sacrificing must we do to be heard and taken seriously? While this can go from committee to committee, meeting to meeting, waiting on the numbers, waiting on the research — you have our voices, and we are the ones who work here. I am desperate and hope that you can understand the extent of inequity this university has laid upon some of its hardest-working, student-facing professionals.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

Kimberly De Jong, M.A.,

national certified counselor, licensed professional clinical counselor,

CSU academic success coordinator and instructor in exploratory studies

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