Two University deans explained that the current financial compensation package for doctoral and some masters students is in the “middle of the pack” compared to Ivy League and comparable peer institutions at the semester’s last Graduate and Professional Student Assembly meeting Monday.
Jason Kahabka, associate dean for administration at the Graduate School, said that graduate students working as teaching assistants or research assistants will at minimum receive a $26,426 stipend during the academic year. The stipend for the nine-month period is slightly lower than the $26,582 living wage for Tompkins County residents — a figure calculated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that was cited by Kahabka.
“What [the living wage] doesn’t take into account is that students also have health insurance covered and don’t have to pay certain taxes,” Kahabka said. “In general the nine-month rate comes out pretty favorably to the living wage. Students with summer wages jump up higher than that.”
In addition to their labor during the school year, graduate students will also receive compensation for the work they do in the summer. The rates vary by departments: summer fellowship ratings in the humanities and the “humanistic social sciences” are $5,568, while students in other fields receive $8,809.
Cornell’s compensation scheme puts the University “near the middle of the pack” compared to other Ivy League peers and ahead of most flagship state universities. When Rebecca Harrison grad, arts and humanities representative, asked whether Cornell “felt okay with being in the middle of the pack,” Kahabka said that some peer institutions are located in areas with higher costs of living.
“There are some numbers that represent [wages at schools in] Palo Alto and Cambridge and others, where we know there is very high cost of living,” Kahabka said. “I don’t mean to say that’s what the policy should be, but in practical terms, we realized it is problematic to be at the bottom.”
Eugene Law grad said that the University should also take into account that expensive technology purchases and long career-advancing trips to locations outside Ithaca also affect the wallets of graduate students. Kahabka acknowledged the high cost of purchasing necessary equipment, while Prof. Barbara Knuth, dean of the graduate school, told Law that travel grants to subsidize student travels do exist.
“Are there ways to have need-based grants for certain things that might bridge the gap that might not come in with certain advantages?” Law asked. “Some people might assume everyone has laptops; that’s not true.”
Kahabka also clarified that these rates only apply to students who are officially employed as T.A.s or R.A.s — titles that are not awarded to many professional students, who are paid hourly for their work instead.
“What we typically see in professional programs is that students have appointments that are called teaching specialists or GTRF, some other job titles that is not in fact a teaching assistantship as defined,” Kahabka said.
The associate dean for administration also noted that less students are taking loans as a result of insufficient University stipends than in recent memory.
“In 2018, three percent of doctoral students took out educational loans,” Kahabka said. “The trend is moving in the better direction, which is trending slightly downward. There was in 2011, 13 or above percent [of students took loans.]”
The GPSA meeting concluded with a brief discussion by Ekarina Winarto grad, GPSA president, about the results of the 2018 Health Survey, which polled graduate students about upcoming hikes in health fees and their feelings about which Cornell Health initiative is most important.
The survey — answered by 15 percent of the graduate and professional student population — found that the initiative to hire more mental health providers was important. In comparison, plans to expand “online and app-based mental health resources” was less popular.
“Surprising to me at least is that online mental health resources is fairly low on people’s agenda,” Winarto said. “This sends a signal because recently there has been a lot of talks about actually going towards more online based resources for mental health. Now we know that we are not necessarily super supportive of that yet.”