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San Diego Community College Offers Living Wage

Effective January 1, the schools in the San Diego Community College District will pay all permanent, full-time employees a minimum of $30.58 per hour. The pay raise affects about 250 employees in the district’s four locations and is almost double California’s $16 per hour minimum wage.

The new minimum annual salary will be $63,600 and will be subject to annual cost-of-living allowances. While the SDCCD will pay for the initial salary bump, the annual cost of living allowance will come from state funding. According to the SDCCD chancellor, Gregory Smith, the district wanted to set an example by paying all of its employees a living wage. The increase will put about $360 more per week into the hands of the district’s lowest-paid employees.

SDCCD used the MIT Living Wage calculator to determine what its minimum hourly rate should be. The college selected the figure based on the needed household income for two adults with two children. In case you’re wondering, the living wage in Washtenaw County under the same circumstances is $32.50. That means a living wage for a household with two working adults and two children in these parts is $67,600.

This is one step in the right direction. It’s an unusual example for a community college to (thoughtfully) increase the wages of its lowest paid employees. I also have to point out that most of SDCCD’s lowest-paid employees are unionized – the custodians, maintenance workers, and clerical staff personnel. SDCCD worked with its unions to implement the change. It’s certainly a different approach from some community colleges that bring in high-priced consultants and employment lawyers to ensure that their unionized workers don’t get one penny more than absolutely necessary.

(Which institution would you rather work for?)

Living wage offers real economic potential

The next step SDCCD should take is making sure its students study in programs that recognize their dignity and worth as employees. Currently, the SDCCD campuses have an average graduation rate of about 25% and an average graduate income of about $41,000. That’s about 35.5% below the living wage that SDCCD has just implemented for its own employees.

Such an effort would create a tremendous benefit for SDCCD’s students. Currently, the district serves about 80,000 students. If only 25% of them graduate, that’s 20,000 students. Their average income is about $41,000. If SDCCD created programs that bumped the average graduate’s wage to $64,000, that would generate an economic benefit of $460M annually. Of course, if more graduates could make more money with a SDCCD degree, the district would likely graduate more students – which would further increase the return on that kind of investment.

WCC could do something similar, but it would mean prioritizing district residents over the out-of-district and out-of-state students that the current administration seems so fond of. Based on WCC’s current enrollment, graduation rate, salary potential, and the estimated living wage of a two-adult, two-child household, if WCC tuned its programs to meet this goal, it could generate an additional $155M in economic benefit for Washtenaw County.

Think about that.

Photo Credit: San Diego City College , via Flickr