CNBC’s “College Voices 2020” is a series written by CNBC fall interns from universities across the country about coming of age, getting their college education and launching their careers during these extraordinary times. Hannah Miao is a senior at Duke University studying public policy. The series is edited by Cindy Perman.
Sade Andrews was one of more than 6 million Floridians who voted in favor of a historic ballot initiative that will gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.
For the 19-year-old Tampa native and fast food worker at McDonald’s, the vote was a personal one.
In March, as the coronavirus pandemic spread through the country, Andrews’ sister lost her job at amusement park Busch Gardens. Andrews had been taking time off from her studies at Hillsborough Community College to help her mother pay bills. Making $9.50 an hour, Andrews was now one of two primary breadwinners in her household, forcing her to postpone her return to school.
Source: The Fight for $15 and a Union
She joined a coalition called Fight for $15 and a union that campaigned for Amendment 2, the ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage.
The referendum passed with 60.8% of the vote, just over the 60% threshold required for approval.
The measure will increase the state’s current $8.56 minimum wage to $10 next year. For every year after that, the pay floor will rise by $1 an hour until it hits $15 in 2026.
“With Amendment 2 being passed, this will really help me out,” Andrews said. “I’ll still be able to help my mom and be able to pay for my classes.”
Andrews plans to resume her schooling in the next year or so and study communications or psychology.
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In Florida and across the country, college students say a $15 minimum wage could be a game changer for financing their education and managing the balance between work and school.
Florida is the eighth state to approve a $15-an-hour minimum wage, and the second-most populous to do so, joining a growing list of states and municipalities adopting the measure.
A 2019 bill from the U.S. House of Representatives called the Raise the Minimum Wage Act, which would lift the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, has a greater chance than ever before to become law, as President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to raise the rate to $15.
The current federal pay floor has remained at $7.25 per hour for over a decade.
Close to 70% of all college students in the U.S. work, a 2018 Georgetown University study found. But a stagnant minimum wage and the skyrocketing cost of secondary education means that money doesn’t go as far as it used to for most college students.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a student working part time during the school year and full time during the summer at the minimum wage could pay for tuition and fees and most of the room and board cost at an average public four-year university, according to the Urban Institute. Now, the same amount of work at the minimum wage would cover only 57% college tuition and fees and 27% of room and board and other expenses.
Source: Nina Schubert
Nina Schubert is a 21-year-old student at Kent State University. Throughout college she’s worked five different jobs to cover rent, car payments, paying back her mother for tuition and other spending.
Most of Schubert’s jobs have started around Ohio’s minimum wage, which is currently set at $8.70 per hour. Even when she worked her way up to a manager position at retailer Aerie, she was paid just $10 an hour.
“I was working 30, 40 hours a week at my last two jobs. It was just really tough and I needed to work that much to afford what I needed and bills,” Schubert said.
Finally this fall, Schubert received a $15-per-hour sales associate position at Best Buy.
“There’s a lot less stress for me knowing I’m making $15 an hour,” Schubert said. “I can work 15 to 20 [hours a week] and I can still do my schoolwork. I can still have time for myself.”
Schubert believes a $15 minimum wage should be implemented in Ohio. “People can’t afford everyday life at $8.70 an hour,” she said.
Source: Samantha Morales
Samantha Morales, 22, graduated from Duke University in May and is now pursuing a master’s degree at Georgetown University. Throughout college, she juggled a variety of jobs, from the campus bookstore to a pediatrics lab to a teaching assistant position. The hourly rate hovered around $10 per hour for most of her roles, even those that required technical skills.
“The jobs I had didn’t really pay enough, so I had to get multiple, which was definitely pretty stressful because being at Duke is hard enough already,” Morales said. “It definitely did get really stressful when I did actually have a bill or something that I needed to pay.”
As a Miami native, Morales was excited to see the passage of Amendment 2.
“I feel like you only ever see the middle class or upper middle class that’s in Miami, especially on TV or in movies, but there’s so many people living below the poverty level throughout Miami and throughout Florida as a whole,” Morales said. “I definitely think that raising the minimum wage would help a lot of people that are struggling with just making ends meet. It would help take some of that stress off.”
Christina Pugliese is a 20-year-old student at the University of Florida and the vice president of UF College Democrats. She said that most students she spoke to on campus were excited about Amendment 2, regardless of political affiliation.
“We’re the ones that take a lot of these minimum wage jobs, especially in our own communities,” Pugliese said. “I live in a college town and the minimum wage jobs here are taken by college students.”
She hopes that the movement for a $15 minimum wage will also help students pursuing internships to set themselves up for success after graduation. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, interns who qualify as paid employees are entitled to earning the minimum wage.
A higher minimum wage could also help some college students enter the workforce. Sydney Harper, 20, is a junior at Vanderbilt University. She wanted to take a tutoring job off-campus this semester to help pay for extracurricular expenses, but without a car, working the $9-an-hour job didn’t make sense financially.
“I’d have to Uber there and back, and the money spent on Ubers just didn’t make the three hours working worth it,” Harper said.
Source: Sydney Harper
A $15 minimum wage would help college students and other workers who don’t have cars. “I think if you can make more money, it can assist with transportation and other things,” she said.
While the Pew Research Center found that two-thirds of Americans favor raising the federal minimum wage, some business owners say a higher pay floor could affect jobs.
“[W]e are extremely worried about the job losses and business closures that will accompany this mandate,” Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said in a statement regarding the passage of Amendment 2.
However, many economists and labor advocates say a $15 minimum wage could boost the economy by reducing poverty and putting more money into the pockets of Americans who will, in turn, spend more. They say women and people color, who are overrepresented in low-wage jobs, will especially benefit from a higher minimum wage.
“The benefits of the policy far outweigh the potential costs,” Ben Zipperer, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning research group, told CNBC.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.
“As soon as I heard that that the freshmen class would be invited back, I decided to go,” said Ahmad Alsheikh, 18, of his decision to attend college in person this fall.
But even though Alsheikh has been on campus since September, he still communicates with his classmates largely online.
The Harvard freshman says he is careful to follow the school’s guidelines for social distancing and restrictions on social gatherings to fewer than 10 people.
Ahmad Alsheikh, 18, was admitted to the Harvard class of 2024.
Source: Ahmad Alsheikh
There are “a lot of virtual meet and greets,” he said. “Largely with the help of community building events through Zoom, I have been able to form social interactions and meet fellow first years in person.”
To date, Harvard has had just 24 reported positive cases of Covid-19 among its undergraduates, and only a limited number of students are permitted on the Cambridge. Massachusetts, campus.
Not every college experience is going as well.
Overall, 87% of institutions have combined in-person and virtual learning in response to the public health crisis, according to a report by the Institute of International Education that was based on data collected in July from more than 500 colleges and universities in the U.S.
Roughly 65% of current college students have been tested for Covid-19 since returning to school and 12% were positive as of the first week of November — nearly double the nationwide positivity rate during that time period, according to a recent survey by Testing.com of 1,000 undergraduate students who are currently on-campus for in-person learning.
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While being back on campus, nearly half, or 48%, of college students have gone to parties despite social distancing guidelines and 20% of them have tested positive for Covid-19, the report found.
Further, 5% of students said they would not get tested or self-quarantine if they found out they were at a party with classmates who tested positive.
Yet, the vast majority of college students still say they prefer in-person instruction to distance learning, particularly at the same high cost.
At the same time, such behavior is causing campuses across the country, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Notre Dame, to shut down after they experienced a surge in cases linked to fraternities, sororities and off-campus parties.
Whether institutions will be open for the spring semester remains very much up in the air.
One week out from Thanksgiving, coronavirus cases are still on the rise across the U.S. The national seven-day average of daily new infections now stands at 161,165, according to a CNBC analysis of John Hopkins data — 26% higher than a week ago.
New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a news conference on September 08, 2020 in New York City.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday the launch of a new online training platform which will enable unemployed and underemployed New Yorkers weathering the Covid-19 pandemic to learn new skills, earn certificates, and advance their careers at no cost. The new tool will provide access to nearly 4,000 online programs taught by leading professors and industry professionals on Coursera, with a focus on high-growth and in-demand sectors like advanced manufacturing, technology, and health care, among others.
“This new training platform will be key in this effort by ensuring unemployed and underemployed New Yorkers are not left behind by providing access to the resources and training they need to get back on their feet,” Governor Cuomo said in a press release.
The new course offerings are provided through a partnership between the New York State Department of Labor and Coursera, an online learning platform. The partnership will save New York millions of dollars over the next few years while providing free job skills training to New Yorkers. New Yorkers can request a free account on the New York State Department of Labor website.
The nearly 4,000 courses available through Coursera are taught by leading professors and industry educators and cover topics ranging from mechanical engineering and project management to technology and data science skills. Many of these programs provide a pathway to professional certificates and other certifications that can help New Yorkers elevate their careers or compete in a new industry. These include courses on project management, cybersecutiry, marketing in a digital world, how to manage a remote team, Google It Support Professional Certification, and an introduction to Apple iOS app development.
The state will also partner with New York-based businesses to encourage their employees to utilize this free learning opportunity.
Since the launch of the Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative, more than 1 million workers have enrolled in over 7 million courses to gain critical skills for jobs of the future.
During the pandemic, Coursera — which ranked No. 4 on the 2020 CNBC Disruptor 50 list — has helped more than 330 government agencies across 70 countries and 30 U.S. states and cities support impacted workers with job-relevant skills training. Since the launch of the Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative, more than 1 million workers have enrolled in over 7 million courses to gain critical skills for jobs of the future. Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative is modeled after a highly successful initiative that the company launched in March 2020, which offered free courses to over 3,700 colleges and universities that closed their campuses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In just six weeks, that initiative launched 6,400 programs for 2,800 colleges and universities around the world, helping enroll 475,000 displaced students in 1.1 million courses.
Governor Cuomo’s announcement is one example of how governments, colleges, institutions and employers are reimagining higher education and the reskilling of the workforce during the pandemic, which has become a critical priority.
“New York has taken a new approach to workforce development and it aims to help New Yorkers acquire the skills they need for the jobs of the future,” said Leah Belsky, Coursera’s chief enterprise officer at CNBC’s virtual Disruptor 50 Summit on Wednesday, who noted the company saw a 450% increase in traffic to its site since the pandemic began.
During the Covid period, when so many people are financially strapped and see the shift to remote work, they are keen on upskilling. “We see a focus on shorter-term learning in ways that can advance their careers,” Belsky said. “There is now laser focus among consumers on how any degree can help them get a better job.”
Rachel Carlson, co-founder and CEO of Guild Education — which ranked No. 45 on the 2020 CNBC Disruptor 50 list — sees the same trend. “What’s needed by more than half of the American workforce is a pathway to getting a fulfilling middle-class career,” she said at the Disruptor 50 Summit. “More employers are recognizing this, and they are offering full-time employees and furloughed employees access to online skills training and education. Many like Walmart, Discover Financial and Chipotle are paying for this education for their workers through Guild Education. It’s a way for them to retain and recruit talent.”
The transformation in higher education is profound. “Americans are redefining the value of the traditional liberal arts degree. In the future, I believe there will be more modular learning where you can tack on technical skills,” Carlson said.
According to Belsky, “There will also be more shared resources among universities and colleges where they share faculty through online offerings– especially internationally in markets where there is not enough access to education.”
She also believes that after the pandemic the majority of students will not just go back on campus. “Instead, you will see a blended approach — a percentage of courses will be given online, others will be offline,” Belsy said. “There will be more pressure on universities to provide relevant job skills.”
Sharp enrollment declines due to the pandemic have taken a severe financial toll on many colleges and universities, and the impact may last for years to come.
To that point, 67% of higher education leaders said decreased revenue from tuition and student housing are the biggest challenges they now face, according to a recent poll from consulting firm NEPC’s endowments and foundations practice.
Overall, undergraduate enrollment fell 4% this year, according to separate data from National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, with incoming freshmen accounting for the biggest drop — sinking 16% from last fall.
For many colleges and universities, the consequences could be severe, according to Sam Pollack, a partner in NEPC’s Endowments and Foundations practice.
“The coronavirus pandemic created the most severe liquidity crisis higher education has faced since the global financial crisis,” he said.
As many schools moved to a hybrid approach to education, with a combination of in-person and online classes, the number of students living on campuses is also down substantially.
Nearly three-quarters of those polled by NEPC said occupancy in school-owned housing — another a critical source of revenue — declined this year, and about one-quarter said it decreased more than 50%.
Even before the global pandemic caused craters in the economy, some institutions were facing financial hardship after years of deep cuts in state funding for higher education.
Already, universities have furloughed thousands of employees and announced revenue losses in the hundreds of millions. Some have even cut academic programs that were once central to a liberal arts education in order to stay afloat.
NEPC polled about 50 higher education executives from colleges and universities across the country. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center collects data from more than 3,600 post-secondary institutions.