ALICE is no Wonderland

Photo: Cleveland State Community College

Recently, I had the task of signing letters to all employees indicating their adjusted salary with a 2 percent cost-of-living increase. While any increase is good news, I was reminded of what salary each employee actually makes.

Like all colleges, our salaries range quite a bit, and overall we compare very well with similar schools. Still, I could not help take notice of those at the bottom end of our pay scales. I asked myself, “How can they make it on that salary?”

Coincidentally, that same week we hosted a community meeting on our campus to talk about poverty in our community. The focus of the conversation was a new report developed by the United Way. The report is called ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed).

Essentially, it sheds new light on the magnitude of poverty in our community with an emphasis on the “working poor.” The report indicated that in our five-county service area, 38 percent to 49 percent of households struggle to afford the necessities of housing, childcare, food, healthcare and transportation on a monthly basis.

Poverty’s different faces

Luckily, our enrollment and revenue are up this year so we have budgeted a pool of funds to help employees get part of the way toward their targets on our compensation plan starting January 1. After doing the calculations, we found that we still had some full-time employees who would be making less than $30,000 a year. (This is a region where total household incomes usually hover in the $30Ks.)

Obviously, the ALICE report weighed heavily on my mind. At our next Cabinet meeting, I brought this subject up for discussion and proposed we set a minimum salary for our full-time employees; ensuring nobody earned less than $30,000 per year.

Their support was overwhelming. It was moving to me that they shared the understanding that we should help those members of our college family who were earning the least. We quickly approved a motion to build the additional cost into our fall budget revision.

Poverty is an issue that affects all aspects of our community. Some may think poverty is only about the homeless people we see around town. Others may think it’s the person in front of us in the grocery line using food stamps. The reality is the faces of poverty may be our friends, colleagues or students who are struggling every day to make ends meet.

In many respects, what we have done to adjust our minimum salaries at Cleveland State is just one small step. Imagine if every employer takes a small step. We just might see a significant change.

To learn more about ALICE, click here. Also, check with your local United Way for data about poverty in your community.

Related article: Go ask ALICE

About the Author

Bill Seymour
is president of Cleveland State Community College in Cleveland, Tennessee.
The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.