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Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Adam Merkling is one of several IPFW students who work nearly full time for IPFW's Information Technology Services department as well as being a full-time student.

Health law menaces student jobs

IPFW computer majors may see full-time work vanish


Adam Merkling's days belong to IPFW. Home, it seems, is for sleeping.

That's not unusual for a college student. But Merkling, 27, and other information technology students have carved out full-time jobs – along with their full-time class loads – with incomes not to be taken lightly.

It's not a fortune, but students who work for IPFW's Information Technology Services, which maintains the school's computers and computer network, make top wages at the school. Some earned as much as $21,000 last year. Not bad for a student struggling with tuition costs and facing a pile of loans.

But the full-time hours that provided money for Merkling and many other IT students – by far the largest pool of money for student workers on campus – might eventually shrink because of new health care laws. That came as a surprise to Merkling and others who depend on the money.

"It was definitely a concern when it was coming down the pipeline, when we heard about it – a cut paycheck," Merkling said.

A delay announced last week in implementing a key component of the new health law, though, might also delay that cut.

There were 1,066 undergraduate students who earned some money from the university last year, part of a $66.5 million faculty, staff and student payroll at IPFW, according to data the school provided to The Journal Gazette.

There were 92 undergraduate students listed as working last year in IT Services, with a student payroll of $699,702. That's three times more than the department with the second largest payroll, the Academic Success Center, which offers tutoring to students.

The top paid information technology students earn $11 an hour; the average IPFW student worker makes $8.50, according to the salary data. The average undergraduate student worker earned about $2,363 last year. The average IT Services student worker earned about $7,600.

The school recognizes that technology pays more, generally, and somewhat competes with outside jobs, said Bob Kostrubanic, director and chief information officer of the department.

IT Services offers computer services to IPFW staff and students, essentially any IT function that would be needed in a corporation or office.

Like many other students at IT Services, Samantha Spade works about 35 hours a week during the school year and 40 hours in the summer. She schedules new computers, installs computers and printers and helps with iPads and iPhones. She makes $10 an hour, or about $15,000 a year, she said.

"I really depend on it a lot right now," said Spade, 21. "It's paying my bills and my rent."

But because of changes outlined in the Affordable Care Act, Kostrubanic expects to lose thousands of student work hours. Under the rules, students will be forced to work no more than 29 hours a week. If not, the school would have to pay for their health care, Kostrubanic said.

Last week the Obama administration signaled a year delay in implementing the rule. Originally set to take effect Jan. 1, it will now be delayed to 2015. Kostrubanic said Purdue, the financial overseer for IPFW, had not determined a course of action. Before the administration's announcement, Kostrubanic said there were some students whose hours he could not afford to cut who would get health care benefits.

Nicole Wilkins, IPFW spokeswoman, said the delay will allow "time to strategize, make decisions, and have tracking systems in place before the new law takes effect."

Any future shift will have some students scrambling.

"Bee" Nguyen, a 25-year-old IPFW senior and IT student, earns $11 an hour, much of which he uses to pay bills in a household he shares with his mother and father. When his work time was cut at the beginning of summer he started looking for a second job, until the school reinstated his hours, he said.

Nguyen depends on the money "fairly a lot, since I had to look for another job just to pay bills and everything."

The possibility of fewer student work hours is discouraging to Kostrubanic.

"When these ladies and gentlemen graduate they end up with a large number of (job) offers," he said.

"So, not only have they made some money to help with their college expenses, but they got the experience that most of them would not get till they found a job, and it's hard to get a job without experience."