Emory’s Ph.D. student stipends finally caught up to those of its peer institutions when the University announced that the base stipend for students pursuing doctoral degrees will increase to $31,000 from $24,000 beginning in Fall 2019. This is a necessary reform to address concerns voiced by Emory graduate students about inadequate stipends and to ensure Emory is competitive at the graduate level. However, the University should take further steps to address other graduate student needs.
The stipend increase addresses the increasing disparity between stipends and Atlanta’s rising cost of living. By bumping up base stipends by 29 percent, Emory is preserving its culture of innovation and research and providing graduate students more financial security. And since the National Labor Relations Board considers graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants as employees, they should be treated more similarly to other Emory employees; graduate students should be focused on producing high-quality research and on providing high-level undergraduate instruction, not on taking second jobs to cover skyrocketing rents.
However, this stipend increase is only the first in a series of steps necessary to keep Emory a top destination for doctoral candidates. Concerns expressed by the voluntary graduate student union EmoryUnite as well as the Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA) include calls for better transportation and housing options, career advising and cheaper childcare.
Fortunately, Emory has already demonstrated a willingness to address graduate student conditions. The University created a half-month stipend for first-year graduate students in August, addressing concerns about the dead-period period they previously faced. This half-month pay is better than no pay, but it does not cover all the expenses incurred by graduate students moving to Atlanta. Moving, rent and student fees represent financial constraints that could prevent the best graduate students from coming to LGS. As EmoryUnite has requested, full stipends should be dispensed earlier to ease graduate students’ transition into the academic year. The University has argued that obtaining I-9 documentation makes this difficult, but Emory should still take the lead among its peer institutions and do away entirely with the dead-pay period.
Emory should take a similar approach to increase campus accessibility to graduate students. Emory only guarantees two years of housing for undergraduates, and graduate students do not receive on-campus housing assignments. Because of this, graduate students are forced to seek off-campus options. “Most [graduate students] cannot afford to live anywhere near Emory on our stipends,” EmoryUnite Organizing Committee member Jonathan Basile (24G) wrote in an email to the Wheel.
While the University may not be able to provide more accessible housing, it can provide graduate students with better transportation options. GSGA, for example, called for a more convenient shuttle schedule. Even though MARTA has announced plans to build the Clifton Corridor that better connects Emory with Atlanta, the University should still accommodate GSGA’s request since that project is years away from completion. In addition, graduate students do not have access to the same parking benefits extended to Emory faculty, leaving them no choice but to pay $672 annually for a parking pass. Providing graduate students with this pass is a concrete way to reduce their expenses.
LGS should also help graduate students with dependents pay for child care. Currently, the cost of sending a child to the on-campus Clifton School is up to $326 a week, or nearly $16,000 annually — more than half of a graduate student’s base stipend. And though the Emory-affiliated Clifton School offers tuition assistance to Emory employees earning less than $58,000 per year, this offer is not extended to students. For those with dependents, covering this expense even with the improved stipend is often impossible. Should it be an option financially, Emory should take similar steps to make child care more affordable.
While the Editorial Board commends Emory for increasing graduate students’ base stipends, the University should ensure that their increased pay isn’t bogged down by high transportation and other costs.
The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Ryan Fan, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Omar Obregon-Cuebas, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois, Madison Stephens and Kimia Tabatabaei.