A petition calling for fair compensation for Assistant Resident Heads (RAs) on financial aid has been signed by 1,002 supporters as of Monday evening. The petition is directed at University of Chicago College Housing and the Office of Financial Aid. The petition began with a 500-signature goal, which was adjusted to 1,000 and then 1,500 signatures upon reaching its first goals in a few days.
According to the petition letter, written by second-years Casey Mulroy, Michelle Gan, and Sara Maillacheruvu, RAs on need-based financial aid receive grants depending on their expected cost of attendance. Currently, RAs on aid see a decrease in their official expected cost of attendance because they are not billed for room and board. As a result, their grant money also decreases.
“These students are working for free as a direct result of their family’s low income,” the petition states.
Based on the current policy, students on financial aid pay the same tuition when they take on RA positions, while those not on aid see a decrease in their expected family contribution by about $15,000, according to the letter. Therefore, a student on financial aid is working as an RA without adequate compensation for their work.
“Fewer and fewer people are applying to be an RA, a lot of it is because people know their financial aid is going to be affected,” Gan said.
The petition emphasizes a perceived lack of diversity that is fostered by the Office of Financial Aid’s current policy. As financial aid packages are negatively affected, the petition says only students from a certain socioeconomic background are able to become RAs.
“There’s a real value in having RAs who understand what it means to be lower income, Odyssey scholars; people who get what’s it’s like to come from certain places,” Gan said.
The letter also notes that increased demand for RAs with the opening of Campus North Residential Commons has been met by a decreased number of applicants. The petition reports that in previous years, College Housing had about twice as many applications as open RA positions. However this year, with increased demand and fewer candidates, it only has about 10 more applicants than available positions, according to Gan.
“Following practices in place for at least a decade, and in accordance with federal guidelines for financial aid, the University currently processes the waiver of room and board costs for Resident Assistants as estimated financial assistance. This means the University is unable to provide additional aid to Resident Assistants who already receive financial aid from the University for the costs of education, including room and board,” University spokesperson Jeremy Manier said in an email.
According to Manier, the University doubling its funding of financial aid over the last ten years perhaps resulted in more students experiencing decreased grants because an increased number of students are receiving grants that finance all educational costs.
The petition suggests that the Office of Financial Aid adopt a credit-based system, similar to how merit aid and Resident Masters’ Assistants pay work. Under that system, RAs would be billed for the full cost of room and board, but would be compensated with credit for the same amount on their quarterly tuition bill. This system would not affect need-based grants.
Once the petition meets its 1,500-signature goal, it will be delivered to the administration.