For some students, remote learning means a loss of income

Washington and Lee University is still paying work-study students; other jobs not guaranteed


Traveller employees before a shift during Mock Convention weekend. Photo courtesy of Lauren Fredericks.

Maya Lora

When he’s living on campus, Donald LeCompte, ‘21, works four jobs. And despite the complications that came with the university’s transition to remote learning and the exodus of students in response to coronavirus, he’s still able to get paid for three.

LeCompte is still being paid for hours he would have worked as a guest attendant for the Belfield Guest House, his work-study position, for the remainder of the school year. He’s also working remotely for University Ambassadors, which transitioned to a paid program this year. And while he isn’t living in the dormitories anymore, he still talks to his residents as a resident adviser. Like the rest of students living on campus, he received a partial refund on his room and board, which the university covers in full for residential life staff.

The only job LeCompte isn’t receiving any compensation for is his position with Traveller. The safe-ride system stopped running the week students were asked to evacuate campus for the remainder of the academic year.

When students left campus in March, others also lost their primary form of employment. While some students, such as those within the federal work-study program, can continue to get paid within that position whether they work remotely or not, other positions are unable to offer remote work opportunities and those students are left without income.

James Kaster, the director of financial aid, said the university was able to, though not required to, continue to pay work-study students because of federal guidelines that kick in during national emergencies.

“The university recognized that most work-study students, including those with federal funding and those funded by the institution, had an expectation of earnings, and that these students depended on those earnings to meet expenses,” Kaster said in an email.

Student payment was calculated based on work history up to the point in winter term when the university transitioned online, said Kaster. According to an email sent to a work-study student that was obtained by the Ring-tum Phi, students received payments for March, April and May. The March calculation was made in addition to hours already logged for the month and the May calculation took into account additional hours a student may have worked due to the flexibility of spring term.

“I think the fact that they took that into consideration was really smart because a lot of students definitely would work more in May,” LeCompte said.

Students could also choose to work remotely and log hours normally, but they weren’t required to do so to receive payment.

The email stated that students who decide to spring option who had not previously notified their supervisor that they would like to continue working while optioning would not receive a May payment.

“I considered spring optioning,” LeCompte said, “and then when I received that email and saw that I’d be losing out on a lot of money from work-study if I decided to do that, I figured it was definitely worth it to take a class.”

Kaster said that students who were previously scheduled to work and were enrolled in spring term but have since changed their mind and want to option because of factors surrounding the pandemic may still be eligible for funding. He said each student’s situation “is evaluated on an individual basis.”

But work-study is just one of several on-campus jobs a student may hold throughout the year. Some employers, such as Traveller and the Information Technology Services desk, are not currently employing students remotely or offering payments for hours they would have worked. But other employers, like University Ambassadors and Phonathon, offer students the chance to log additional hours through remote work.

Lauren Fredericks, ‘20, who was the Traveller chair for the 2019-2020 year, informed Traveller staff on April 8 that Traveller was officially done for the year following President Will Dudley’s announcement that in-person graduation ceremonies were postponed.

Griffin Noe, ‘21, will take over as Traveller chair for the 2020-21 school year. He said he asked Ryan Beauford, who served as assistant director of public safety and oversaw Traveller’s operations for the school year, about whether Traveller employees qualified for payment on shifts they would have worked throughout the rest of the year.

“[He] said that Trav is not a work-study program and is instead a part-time position that is not eligible for any payment on unworked shifts,” Noe said. “He said that the policy applied to all part-time positions on campus.”

As a Traveller employee, LeCompte had to accept that he wouldn’t receive any money from the highest paying job on campus for the rest of the year. But he said he understands why the school made that decision.

“I mean the school is in such a hard position, financially, with all this overall. There’s only so much they can do,” LeCompte said. “It would have been nice but I don’t think it’s necessary for Traveller, unlike work-study.”

Students who worked the ITS desk in the library will also not receive compensation for hours they could have worked. Mourad Berrached, ‘20, who was hired during the winter term of his freshman year, said he thinks the university should have considered paying students just like work-study students, because some ITS employees rely on the income.

“Losing that [income] during a pandemic when there’s a lot of uncertainties — to also lose financial certainty is just tough,” Berrached said. “I think it would have been beneficial for a lot of students if that protection would have been extended to us as well.”

Berrached said that while he didn’t rely on his ITS payments, he has to be more careful about his spending because he no longer has any income.

Kaster said students working for jobs like Traveller or ITS “may be eligible for funding through other sources.” He recommended those students contact the Office of Student Affairs with questions.

Phonathon is one on-campus employer allowing students to work remotely. Lauren Shank, the assistant director of annual giving and Phonathon, said student employees interested in working remotely began Sunday, May 3.

Shank said that more than half of her student employees expressed the desire to work. Most are working between six and nine hours a week, which “matches what we’re doing on campus,” she said.

First-year students, sophomores and juniors will be able to work Phonathon through June 30, if they so choose, but seniors will not be able to work after May 28, which marks graduation for the class of 2020. Some Phonathon students were already working remotely for the annual fund before May 3 by running social media content.

LeCompte said that he’s happy with how the school has handled financial aid and job compensation, considering the circumstances.

“I think the school has been doing as good of a job as they can with tough circumstances,” LeCompte said. “They’ve obviously got to protect their financial position but they’re also doing a lot to try to give back to students, when and where they can. And they were pretty quick to tell us how they were going to do it.”