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Wages for overnight hosts: why they may not be fair

Many students do vital work on this campus, but few are paid in accordance with the importance of their work. Take, for example, overnight hosts, students who help convince prospective studentsto attend Beloit College. Each prospective student represents a deal worth tens of thousands of dollars, and the overnight hosts that entertain them are expected to bring that money in by selling the Beloit experience. Despite their crucial role, these students are paid only $18 to $20 for 5 to 8 hours of work.

Recently, Beloit Young Socialists contacted several senior staff members about this situation, asking why such students in such an important role were being paid for only two and a half hours’ work at minimum wage, despite being responsible for hosting their prospective students for an entire evening, night, and morning. 

Aside from the ethical inadequacy of this pay, this system appears to be in violation of the law, specifically the Fair Labor Standards Act, which stipulates that any employee, even those paid a flat fee, must receive at least $7.25 per hour of work or on-call time.

In response, the administration held what they called an “emergency meeting”.

Overnight, they stopped using the words “employment” or “compensation” in favor of “volunteer”, and replied to the email saying overnight hosts had always been thought of that way. This is blatantly untrue; overnight hosts sign contracts which call them “employees” and remind them that, because they “are being compensated”, they are not to “leave [their] prospective student alone” throughout the entire visit.

The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) is clear on this topic: volunteers cannot be compensated. They can only be paid a nominal fee, which can’t be tied to productivity. As an overnight host at Beloit, if you work two nights in a row, you receive another stipend. This is clearly counter to the mandate of the law.

Overnight hosting is a job, a job that requires time, effort, and resources from the students in question. Hosts are expected to clear their evening of meetings, have all academic work finished ahead of time and work through a long evening of scheduled events. Some students even have to rearrange or cancel shifts with other jobs to host prospective students. Despite this, the administration is unwilling to pay overnight hosts the legally required minimum of $36.25 for the five hours spent doing hosting work, not to mention other time spent with their assigned prospective students.

Images by Levi Moos, Beloit Young Socialists

This is not isolated, but part of a pattern of exploitation of student labor. According to a recent survey conducted of Beloit College students on Facebook, 64% of student employees say they aren’t compensated fairly for their work on campus. Across the board, the college compensates student workers pathetically, but overnight hosts are in a unique position. Each potential incoming freshman represents as much as $60,000 of revenue. The overnight hosting process is essential to convincing these students to attend, and given the state of Beloit’s finances, the loss of even a few students would be devastating. Considering how poorly compensated overnight hosts are, admissions should consider themselves lucky if they even show up to work. Remember, collective power is real and solidarity is a power tool.

5 thoughts on “Wages for overnight hosts: why they may not be fair”

  1. Eli says:

    Beloit also occasionally offers prospective students and their overnight hosts the opportunity to eat at Lucy’s Burger Bar. Admissions pays Lucy’s $50 per meal, for a limited menu that would cost $40 at most out of pocket, when they could just let the prospective student experience Bon Appetit for $8. If they can pay Lucy’s, why can’t they pay students doing the actual labor?

  2. Levi Moos says:

    I will say that an example that comes to mind as a similar payment situation is the stipend system paid to youth retreat and summer camp workers within the Jewish community I grew up in. Pay for weekend events and summer employment if divided hourly is also low. However, I will speak to my experience supervising high school students for weekend events in this context. It’s not the same job, but I bring it up as an example because of navigating boundaries around on/off duty time, limited requirements for the job, and the potential to argue that I’m getting community benefit and also meals (and lodging in this case) by signing up for this job with a non-profit organization.

    1) In this particular situation I was designated 100% off-duty time to sleep between 3 am and 12 pm every day. In practice, I was usually woken up and grumpy and sometimes had to help people with various things, but I could have pretended to be asleep/actually gone back to sleep/gone into town to get coffee with no consequences because I was off-duty. I was however, still in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin for the weekend so you make the judgement about whether or not I was actually off.

    2) My on-duty time was no more than 4-8 hours per night. I reiterate that this position included food, housing, and community activities. Even if we subtract away all of those “benefits” I was paid a (taxable W-2 income) stipend of $100 for the event lasting Friday night to Sunday afternoon. Depending on how you calculate my on-duty time, that’s at worst $6.25 per hour. While sub-minimum wage, it’s still wayyy more money than being offered by Beloit for a job that is also supervising/guiding older teenagers. I still felt exhausted and grossly underpaid at my job but that was mostly because I’m not cut out for night shifts at all and a living wage should really be $15/hr. That’s not the point right now.

    Basically, I think that overnight hosts should be paid a minimum stipend of $50 per night, and I think comparing this opportunity to this other job I’ve had supports that.

  3. grace says:

    great article!

  4. Beloit Young Socialists says:

    I make more babysitting a six year old for two hours, what gives Beloit Admissions?

  5. s says:

    You college kids need to get a clue. Find a friend in law school and sue the administration. Clearly they knew they were wrong if they started changing terminologies, etc. Beloit College administration has never cared a lick about students only the money money money !

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