Passion over pay
Students walk confidently into often scarce, underpaid job pool
In a recent article by 24/7 Wall St., a number of jobs were listed as underpaid when considering the high levels of education required for the position. However, while some of these jobs often receive lower pay, some Grand Valley State University faculty members disagreed and said some occupations
listed can in fact be highly compensated.
Several of the jobs mentioned included radio and television announcers, legislators and rehabilitation
Legislators with a bachelor’s degree had a 2010 median salary of $19,260, according to the Bureau of
Labor Statistics. While the article listed legislators as a highly educated but underpaid job, several
GVSU faculty members disagreed, noting that many legislators own businesses, currently work or have
had previous careers outside of the public sector.
“Legislators often come to position fairly late in their career,” said Mark Richards, professor and chair
for the political science department. “Usually legislators have already been successful in another
career that requires at least a college degree. Common occupations among legislators include
business, law, education or retiree.”
Richards argued that legislators are highly compensated in several places and that in most other
areas, it’s viewed as a part-time job so they can still work elsewhere while being a legislator.
“The main point is that having an advanced degree is not a formal qualification to serve in
governmental office, and that the lowest paid legislators are really part-time public servants who have
a career or own a business,” said Paul Cornish, associate professor in the political science department.
“So the whole premise of the article is false as it applies to people who serve as elected legislators.”
Reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts with a bachelor’s degree had a median salary
of $36,000 in 2010, according to the BLS.
“It’s always pretty cheap as a start in broadcasting,” said Keith Oppenheim, assistant professor and
coordinator of the broadcasting major. “The bigger problem is getting a job somewhere. I don’t think
the main issue is the pay is too low, but that the job numbers are too few.”
Oppenheim said the occupation has struggled because of the development of technology and the
media revolution. He said that those hoping to enter the field of broadcasting or other media have to
have multiple skills because there is more to do and fewer people to do it.
“(Students) have to be a real multimedia player,” Oppenheim said. “They need to be able to write for
print and for web in different forms, have electronic journalism skills and the ability to tell stories in
It’s crucial for students hoping to find a job in media to get experience outside of the classroom, as
well, Oppenheim said. Having an internship off-campus gives a student experience that enhances
what they’re learning in the classroom.
“A workplace gives you things you can’t get in the classroom,” he said. “Students need to apply
themselves in both (technical and practical) areas. It won’t be easy, and students need to bring a lot of
efforts to the table while they’re here.”
Student interest in the GVSU broadcasting major hasn’t declined because of lower pay and more
career responsibilities, but instead enrollment numbers have seen a steady increase from the fall of
2009 with 136 students to 155 in the 2013 fall semester. Oppenheim said students go into the major
because it’s a cool job and an interesting way to make a living, instead of for the money.
“I would rather do something that I love than be stuck in a cubicle or going to school for eight years,”
said Stacia Brundage, a senior majoring in sports broadcasting.
For students hoping to become rehabilitation counselors, the jobs are typically underpaid because
they’re often funded by nonprofits or underfunded by the government, said Patricia Stow Bolea,
associate professor in the School of Social Work. According to the BLS, rehabilitation counselors with a
master’s degree had a median salary of $32,350 in 2010.
“Students go into these low-paying, helping fields because they really do want to help people,” Bolea
The bachelor’s of social work program at GVSU has seen a population increase of 44 percent, from
345 students in 2009 to 499 this semester. Bolea said that even though the job is often underpaid,
students are in it because it’s really what they want to do.
“It’s an individual decision really,” she said. “For some people, it’s very worth it for altruistic reasons—
worth is relative.”
Her advice to students is to be realistic about their earnings, to carefully weigh their motivation to go
into the health care field and to keep in mind the environment they’ll be working in. She said that it’s
hard but rewarding work.
“It’s a cultural value,” Bolea said. “If it was a cultural value of making sure there was more social
justice and equity, then I think these positions would be more rewarded.”