Exception funding exceptionally cut

Gabriel Perez


College represents a period of intellectual transformation, wherein burgeoning young adults transition from the burdens and anxieties of pubescence to those of an ever evolving, often unforgiving professional world. On-campus employment can make this transition a bit smoother for students fortunate enough to receive a financial aid work award — the trouble, for some, can be finding work without one.

Even so, students without work-study awards searching for on-campus work are not entirely out of options: they can apply directly with the department or faculty member of interest and hope they have exception funding. Departments and faculty qualify for exception funding by submitting individual applications to be reviewed by Whittier’s exception funding committee, which then determines the amount each department or faculty member receives. “The intent,” according to Student Employment and Human Resources Office Manager Stephanie Lopez, is to “create additional opportunities for work experience on campus for students not eligible for a financial aid work award.”

Mendenhall is home to many of the hard decisions concerning financial decisions on campus.   Courtesy of Think Blue LA

Mendenhall is home to many of the hard decisions concerning financial decisions on campus. Courtesy of Think Blue LA

Student Disability Services (SDS),  for instance, received 85 applicants this semester and have hired about 60 students as note-takers, proctors, and office assistants. This number “depends on our students’ needs each semester and how many are registered with [SDS] each term,” explained Director of SDS Mariam MacLeod. “In order to ensure that students are receiving reasonable and appropriate accommodations that are guaranteed under the law, [Assistant Dean of Academic Support] Andrea Villegas and I provided the exception funding committee with a data-driven justification for additional funding.”

Wardman library had this to say about the matter: “Student staffing is extremely important to the Library for several reasons. These include providing the library with the ability to be open late evenings and weekends and, most importantly,  a library job provides student employees with the opportunity to gain project management, technology, and customer service skills. We believe these skills can translate to future professional positions beyond college. 

“Due to the number of hours the library is open, we usually need 20 or more students to provide coverage. We understand that not all of the students applying for library positions or returning student staff will have financial aid work awards. For this reason, we, like many departments on campus, apply for exception funding. The Library did not receive the full amount requested, but we understand that it is a set pool of money and many departments make the case for the ideal amount of funding.

“The Library had over 60 students apply for Library Student Assistant jobs. We were able to hire 32 students. Most of the students who applied and were hired were on financial aid work awards. We feel it is important to provide these paid opportunities to students with financial need. Of course, we do use a handful of students who are utilizing exception funding. “Exception funding has been somewhat inconsistent across the past few semesters/academic years, but we understand there is a natural ebb and flow year to year. Given the increase in minimum wage and the number of student staff that graduated last year, we have hired more students this year than we have in the past,” according to a statment realeased by The Wardmen Library.

The exception funding budget does indeed fluctuate, and a striking revision was made this past academic year. The budget for 2018 – 19 was just over $300 thousand, compared to $345 thousand each year since 2015 – 16. The reason for the recent cut is simple: students aren’t utilizing the funds. During the three previous academic years, “the actual utilization, or student earnings,” said Lopez, “was significantly lower than the provided budget by about $40 thousand or more.” In the 2015 – 16 academic year, the number of students hired totaled 319 with $274 thousand being... utilized; in 2016–17, 305 students were hired with $301 thousand being utilized; and in 2017–18, 300 students were hired with just under $295 thousand being utilized.

It’s unclear why such a significant portion of the exception funding budget has gone unutilized in recent years. Whether it’s due to shifts in department and faculty needs, a lack of knowledge of work opportunities among students, the painful financial realities inherent in most postsecondary pursuits that drives students toward higher paying off-campus jobs (that Top Ramen diet just ain’t cutting it), or some combination thereof, the fact remains: a mere 138 students to date currently receive additional funding, less than half the three previous academic years.

The implications of these employment trends are less than auspicious. This year’s corresponding budget cut lays bare institution resources that have not been taken advantage of. It stands to reason, regrettably, that less and less students are coming into contact with the support systems and unique opportunities for personal and professional development that come with on-campus work experience. Regardless of where the compensation comes from, these are essential constituents of the undergraduate experience — now more than ever, as the weight of a Bachelor’s degree plummets, along with its ability to stave-off membership in America’s ever-growing precariat.

Students can find on-campus and off-campus work/internship opportunities at whittier.joinhandshake.com.