Thousands of graduate students across the United States at private and public universities have gone on strike in recent years, from Ivy League institutions like Harvard University and Columbia University to universities California public.
Workers graduating from even more colleges organized unions despite fierce opposition from their administrations. Among the most pressing unifying themes among graduate students organizing unions and organizing protests and strikes is low pay, an issue plaguing graduate students in the United States.
In the United States, graduate workers take jobs such as teaching classes, assisting with research projects, and performing often vital clerical duties that help run academic institutions.
In Indiana, graduates of Indiana University Bloomington are currently considering a strike over their university’s refusal to negotiate with their union to end fees charged to graduates and pay them a living wage.
Zara Anwarzai, a doctoral candidate in philosophy and cognitive science at Indiana University Bloomington for four years, receives about $20,000 a year in salary from the university and barely manages to make ends meet without having to a side job, even though she shares a small one-bedroom apartment. apartment with his companion, also a graduate.
“It often happens that we pay our monthly bills late so that we can hold out until the next check,” Anwarzai said.
She suffers from chronic back pain and cannot afford the physical therapy recommended by her doctor. She often delays getting her prescription drugs filled because she cannot afford the co-payment. When working side jobs inside or outside the university, she worked until nearly 6 p.m. with few breaks.
“We need to stop spreading the ‘I get paid to study!’ graduate story,” Anwarzai added. “As you go through a program, you realize how much your work in your departments and the university has benefited them. They need your work as a teacher and researcher, they need you as someone in unpaid service roles, and they need your academic and professional reputation.
For international students, they cannot legally hold additional jobs while working as a graduate student. Simon Luo, a doctoral candidate in political science at Indiana University in Bloomington and an international graduate, earns just $19,000 a year.
“That’s thousands of dollars below living wage in Bloomington, Indiana. I’m constantly unable to make ends meet,” Luo said. “Not being able to support myself financially means constantly being confronted financial anxiety caused by low income.”
Salaries for graduate students vary widely in the United States. In January 2022, Princeton University announced increases for graduate stipends by 25% to approximately $40,000 per year and Brown University recently increased base annual stipends to over $42,000 per year, while many colleges and universities pay stipends well below $20,000 per year.
Salary can often vary for graduate students depending on university departments and alternative sources of funding and grants. That salary has remained low at universities and colleges across the United States, despite skyrocketing college endowments in 2021, with an average return of nearly 31%, the highest average return since 1983. About 19% of Colleges and universities that reported endowment returns in 2021 had endowments worth more than $1 billion each.
At the University at Buffalo in New York, some graduate workers’ salaries can be as low as $10,500 a year, noted Lawrence Mullen, a doctoral student in the University at Buffalo’s English department and union president. of UB graduate student employees. He cited an internal survey of UB graduates conducted by the union, which found that about 20% of the school’s graduates earned less than $15,000 a year.
“They are paying our graduate workers less than a living wage and in some cases a third of the living wage in Erie County, which the Economic Policy Institute says is about $35,000,” said Mullen. “At UB, we have a food bank, and last semester, fall 2021, 80% of the people who used this food bank were graduate students.”
At Stony Brook University in New York, graduates are currently organizing a Living Wage campaign to demand salary increases for graduates, with current base stipends set at $22,500 per year. The union also reported the results of a survey of graduate students reporting problems paying rent and continued financial stress induced by low wages with the high cost of living in Suffolk County, New York.
“Professors and instructors in these courses are struggling. Running up credit card debt, not being able to fix your car, selling blood plasma, working side jobs, doing sex work on the side, just to support yourself,” said John Klecker, a graduate student in chemistry at Stony stream.
Low wages are emerging as a more pressing issue for educated workers who often live in cities with high living costs, which are currently skyrocketing with soaring rents and soaring prices for basic necessities.
Preston Stone, a graduate of the University of Miami’s English department, earns around $24,000 a year. Although he works during the summers, he receives no salary for three months between the spring and fall semesters.
“Many people, because of the increase in rent without an increase in allowances, have decided not to continue their higher education. They decided to go home or transfer to another university,” Stone said.
At the University of Florida, the starting salary for graduates is approximately $19,000 per year for nine months of the year, although individuals need an income of at least $32,200 per year to afford a studio in the region in 2021.
A survey by UF Graduate Assistants United of more than 1,000 UF graduates found a significant proportion of graduates struggling to make ends meet, relying on local food banks and unable to pay for medical care paid by the university. The union is currently pushing for significant wage increases in new union contract negotiations with the University of Florida, as the school has an endowment of more than $2.2 billion and has received $861 million. dollars in research grants in 2021, research in which graduates are strongly involved.
“The work of graduate students is the pillar on which research projects are based. These are the same projects that have brought in nearly $900 million in funding and for which the University of Florida makes proud claims on social media. Yet at the same time, the university publicly rejected the union’s bargaining agenda, on the grounds that it was unable to come up with the money to pay graduate students a living wage,” said international graduate student Konstantina Sokratous in Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience at the University. from Florida.
“These universities are making a lot of profit off of graduate students, while being indifferent to the fact that these human beings are struggling to feed themselves every day,” she said.