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I have currently completed 4.5 years of my 5.5-year program for a BS in Computer Information Systems (programming) in Florida. Last summer, I was able to work at the Info Tech department as a web programmer. I was clearly wanted back, and will be working for the next couple of interterm weeks as well as expecting to be there next summer.

College policy is very rigid towards students; any work assignment is considered a privilege and warrants minimum wage. For me, that was great last summer, as my job was an internship that allowed getting my feet wet. However, my director technically has the right to force me to work during the semester, which worries me, because I don't think the tiredness and potential for low grades is worth the meager benefits. But by refusing, I could be prevented from ever working there again.

Because I am a Canadian student in the United States, my only right to work is at the institution where I study. My wife is getting US citizenship, so I may be able to get a visa in the future, but not in time for this coming summer. There is also the option of getting OPT (optional practical training), but because junior developers are an investment for a company, they don't like hiring people who are planning to leave.

Working as a developer, even junior, for $8-9 seems like selling myself out cheaply. Policy forces me to be paid the same thing as those students who are mowing the lawn or staffing the library. However, I may not be able to find a position elsewhere in Pensacola suitable to my other life considerations.

A friend of mine recently graduated and came to IT as staff, earning a lot more with less experience. People frequently leave IT. It seems to the director's advantage to grant me a higher salary. However, I doubt his power to do so, except for creating some arrangement where I temporarily became staff without having my degree yet (this, I know from inside information, has been done before).

I do not know whether the risk of having no job at college this summer outweighs the benefit of earning a more reasonable pay. Working there in a sense enables me to further my education; but the pay, I find, reflects poorly on my knowledge and experience.

How can I best ask for the raise while increasing my chances of staying to work there?

Edit

Part of my misgiving stems from the possibility of being required to work during term. Per suggested advice, I do not plan to threaten to leave, but have found a response that party solves the problem:

Will you work at IT during the semester?

Let me counter that with a proposition: will you increase my pay?

After which this is a yes-yes no-no situation.

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    "I do not know whether the risk of having no job at college this summer..." We don't know either. We don't know what your financial situation is like (or even your financial aid). Will you manage if you don't have a job at all? Or if you just get a job at the library? Dec 24, 2019 at 20:23
  • We would be fine without the job. However, I wouldn't feel good about leaving my wife to do all the work. Dec 24, 2019 at 21:01
  • What's the experience worth on your CV? Around here, internships pay less than minimum wage (and yes, that's legal for some odd reason). Is it fair? Perhaps not. Is it essential for your career? For some studies, it's a requirement. And it absolutely helps your CV. The world we live in is not ideal. Make a decision and stick with it.
    – Mast
    Dec 25, 2019 at 17:29
  • @Mast To be clear, it's not an officially an internship -- it's an actual job -- but it is on campus and does get tailored to student schedules. Though the experience may not be an absolute requirement at this point, I have decided to stay until graduation, unless forced to work for the same value during term. Dec 25, 2019 at 22:20

2 Answers 2

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Ask for the raise, with an explanation of why it's worth it for the company to pay you more. Be prepared to hear "no".

Asking for a raise isn't a high-stakes activity, particularly when you can present it as something you know is unlikely (the policy doesn't allow it). Just asking for a raise likely won't cause them to immediately fire you or anything like that. But to have much chance of success you'll have to come up with some compelling reasons why it would be better for the employer to pay you more.

You'll need a better pitch than the one you presented here. Higher pay is obviously nice for you, if it's available, but the employer would need a pretty compelling reason to more than double your pay in exchange for the work they're already getting at the current rate. And because this sounds like an employment program run through the school, you would need to demonstrate why you, specifically, are not only more valuable to this employer than another student in your program but are also worth the trouble of bending or breaking the rules for.

I would not threaten to quit if you don't get the raise. Given that this job is run through your school, the employer almost certainly knows enough about your situation that they know they aren't at risk of losing you to a better offer.

It's also worth bearing in mind that you are not a freelance worker looking to secure an ordinary job in this market, you are a student seeking employment through a specific program while studying. You get real benefits from that in this job, even if some of them aren't measured directly in dollars. Specifically, it sounds like the job is supposed to fit will with your school schedule. A lot of jobs won't make much accommodation for your being a student, particularly if you're a newer hire. Speaking as someone who balanced full time work and full time school, that's some amazing help to have.

But the rub here is really that you have little leverage:

  • Your employment prospects are limited by your degree program and immigration status. Can you find a better-paying job that will allow you time to attend lectures, complete assignments, and study, without courting legal problems?
  • It is likely that you are replaceable in this job (there are a lot of other programming students out there)
  • It sounds like you're planning to leave this job in the near future anyways (so keeping you happy doesn't gain them much)
  • The rules of the program seem to forbid you being paid more than you are
  • Even if you don't think your pay is enough it's more than the $0 you'd be earning if unemployed

With regard to the risk of being unemployed against the gains of being paid at your desired rate: you are at roughly half the pay you assess your time to be worth, and so you're already at about the average wage between continuing on with this job and having no job. The risk, expressed as expected value, is already fairly well addressed by your current wage. Comparisons to graduates of the program are a bit off-- having a degree is a point in your favor, while having most-but-not-all of a degree is generally not worth a whole lot to employers.

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  • You make an excellent assessment of my risk being about at midpoint and my situation not being that of a freelance worker. Though, to some degree, my thought is that being a worker under OPT is possible (if unlikely). Perhaps keeping me happy would gain them a permanent worker, though. Dec 24, 2019 at 22:59
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A few questions:

1) Why does the fact that you got a summer internship and plan to return to the same internship next summer in any way affect what you do during the school year? It's a school, you're a student; the school knows that students are busy during the school year, because they're studying, at the school. So if you just go to your boss and say "sorry, I can't work during the year, I'm too busy", what makes you think he'll say "in that case don't bother coming back ever, you're fired permanently"?

2) Why do you think your boss is able to circumvent school policy and give you a raise, even if he wants? In large organizations, your boss does not usually have the power to unilaterally give you a raise, he probably has to go through some bureaucratic channels to do so. You're not asking for a small raise either; in effect you're asking for a raise of more than 100% of your salary. It sounds reasonable to you because of market pressure, but to your boss, you're asking for a raise to double your salary, and that's a big ask.

So here's what you do: Go to your boss, and explain to him that you are too busy during the semester and you can't work as much. Offer to work a little bit to do maintenance stuff, like if there's a bug or something then you can fix it, but you won't be "on call" and you won't have time to add any new features until the summer. He should be understanding about this, because after all you're a student.

Then, in the summertime, you mention to your boss that you think you might want a raise, as your salary is very low and the industry will pay much more. Surely your boss knows your visa status and knows you're bluffing if you say "give me a raise or I'll find another job", so be sure to do this NICELY; you don't want to get fired, you just want to ask a favor (really you're asking a favor, you're not making demands). Ask him if there's anything he can do to give you more money for your work. Then, if he says no, drop the subject and decide if you think you want to work for minimum wage at all, and then go from there. If your boss says no to your request for a raise, he probably has a bureaucratic reason for it, like the school policy or something like that, and he can't go around it; such reasons are totally legitimate and are usually the hardest to break, so don't take it personally.

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  • When accepting work, policy states that workers may be required to stay over the term if necessary. Policy also states that quitting a job means no more job. Because IT serves the school, my boss knows my course schedule. Working there requires a set number of hours per week. Dec 24, 2019 at 20:54
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    +1 For explaining the bureaucracy. Absolutely true. I remember when I first got hired as a graduate student, I learned about this system. Managers typically have to debate on your behalf on how much bonus and raise you get. It's really a competition. It's almost like the manager is your lawyer and their manager, director, GM, VP, etc. are the prosecutors.
    – user82352
    Dec 25, 2019 at 16:36

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