Student stripend reexamination

Student stipends are up for examination this spring but are not in danger of termination, despite rumors to the contrary, according to vice provost for student affairs Jackie Balzer.

Student stipends are up for examination this spring but are not in danger of termination, despite rumors to the contrary, according to vice provost for student affairs Jackie Balzer.

The Educational Stipend Program (ESP) began as a way to compensate student ambassadors for their work representing the university but has expanded to pay, as of December 2009, a total of 387 students for various types of work, said dean of students Michele Toppe.

Balzer will head up an effort to reexamine the ESP this year in response to complaints about the program from various university departments. Balzer said that she hopes to have an outline for how the review process involving students, staff, faculty and administrators will take place and how any subsequent recommendations for change will be made by the end of January.

“This past fall a number of PSU officials brought to my attention concerns with the administration of the dean of student’s educational stipend program and policy,” Balzer said. “As a result of my examination of these concerns, I’ve decided to lead a thoughtful review of the Educational Stipend Program and Policy.”

University General Counsel, Human Resources, Finance and Administration and Student Affairs have all voiced concerns over the administrative and bureaucratic hassle of administering stipends as well as the potential liability.

Some specific concerns expressed to Balzer include the following:
– The program has become administratively challenging and expensive for the university to manage
– Some positions paid by the ESP may be more appropriately paid by other mechanisms such as hourly or by the piece
– Some leadership positions paid by the ESP that are not supervised by the university raise concerns about accountability for the stipend and university liability—a different system may be more appropriate for these positions
– The process to establish new stipends needs clarification and structure
– The effectiveness of the ESP should be evaluated

According to the stipend policy, the ESP is supposed to be reviewed every three years. The last ad hoc committee convened by the dean of students to review the policy and seek feedback and recommendations from stakeholders was in 2008. Under this review process, recommendations for policy changes are to be approved by the General Student Affairs Committee of the Faculty Senate.

The ESP is intended to provide financial support for students who assume paraprofessional positions of responsibility. Often these positions are within student incidental fee-funded programs, co-curricular programs, academic programs and a number of student organizations that have established a history with the University and provide an inherent contribution to the student life experience, according to the dean of student’s Web site.

The ESP is not intended to fully compensate student leaders for all of their contributions. The nature of these opportunities is such that they provide paraprofessional experiences that have significant educational benefits.

Students receiving stipends are not employees of PSU and are not subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act or minimum wage law, according to the Web site.

“This is a very complex issue and I intend to proceed very thoughtfully and carefully to develop a [stipend] model that supports student success and leadership development,” Balzer said in an e-mail to ASPSU President Jonathan Sanford, in which she also asked Sanford to keep the potential stipend review confidential until the process by which it will take place is finalized.

“No final decisions will be made without an open discussion. As soon as more specific details regarding the review process and opportunities for input are confirmed, an announcement will be made,” Balzer said.

In an e-mail response to Balzer, Sanford asked who was “digging” around on the stipend policy and said,  “Not only will I not keep quite on this issue, I look forward to many cold days in hell protesting this decision if need be.”

Sanford said that he is against having a review process outside of the normal procedure for revisiting the policy every three years.

“Any process will be open and lead by a commitment to students,” Toppe said. “Students are invited to be involved.”

Balzer said that she invited Sanford to be a part of the review process by serving on a stipend review board, but Sanford denies that she made any such request.

Information regarding the Education Stipend Program can be found on the dean of students’ Web site: