The Cornell University Board of Trustees approved a 2 percent increase in stipends for graduate research and teaching assistants in the 2016-17 academic year at its Jan. 29 meeting, according to the University.
The newly adjusted stipends will provide $25,152 for teaching and research assistants. The fellowship stipend will range from $25,152 to $28,998, depending on the student’s field of study.
The highest amount will be awarded to engineering, physical and life sciences and the lowest awarded to arts, humanities and social science majors, according to the Graduate School website.
The stipend increase follows a collaborative effort by the administration and the executive committee of the graduate professional student assembly to determine an appropriate increase based on cost of living adjustments in Ithaca, according to Barbara Knuth, senior vice provost and dean of the Graduate School.
“The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly provided valuable perspectives on challenges that impact student budgets, including child care, affordable housing, summer funding and conference travel,” Knuth said. “We have responded to many of these concerns and continue to work toward solutions to these challenges.”
Graduate student stipends are set based on a nine-month period, and additional funding is often provided by various departments, with an emphasis on funding for those students that stay in Ithaca for the summer. These additional summer awards typically range from $5,200 to $8,200, according to the graduate school website.
Richard Walroth, grad, president of the Graduate Student Professional Assembly, said that although the stipend increase is generous for a nine-month period, graduate students staying at Cornell over the summer may need additional funding from their respective departments or outside sources.
“Since not all grad students are paid additionally over summer, we still think that that’s too low,” Walroth said. “And in terms of being a set minimum, [the stipend is] still a bit too low, considering many grad students are here over the summer.”
Research and teaching assistants also work more than 15 hours a week — the average that the Board of Trustees assumed when deciding stipends — according to Michaela Brengan grad.
“As a T.A., I get paid the minimum rate … and I spend much more time than that working, depending on the size of my class and the time of the semester,” Brengan said.
Brengan agreed, saying she thinks the stipends are still not enough to cover the various expenses that graduate students incur living in Ithaca.
“For people for whom cars are necessary, paying for repairs is a big issue,” Brengan said. “Ithaca winters — the current one excepted — wreak havoc on vehicles, and mechanics in this area are quite expensive. For the many international students Cornell has, getting home even once a year can be a real hardship.”
Brengan said graduate students also lack funding to offset the cost of finding a job after graduation, due to “the expenses of travel, application fees and buying presentable professional attire,” Brengan said.
Students on the job market face substantial bills from applications to dozens of jobs, Brengan added, and the stipend increase may not be sufficient to cover costs until they find employment.