Emory’s Laney Graduate School (LGS) will increase the base stipends for doctoral students who teach undergraduate courses from $24,000 to $31,000 in Fall 2019, according to an Oct. 2 University-wide email from University President Claire E. Sterk and Provost Dwight A. McBride.
Emory committed $40 million over five years to the initiative, an attempt to match peer institutions’ stipends, the email said.
The stipend covers full tuition and health insurance, which are valued at $24,366 for the 2017-2018 academic year, according to the LGS website. In addition, doctoral students must pay a $50 semesterly computing fee, $50 semesterly enrollment fee, $142 annual athletics and recreation fee and a one-time $70 transcript fee.
LGS Dean Lisa Tedesco wrote in an Oct. 16 email to the Wheel that the increased stipends would help graduate students gain more financial security while pursuing their studies.
“While some of our stipends were already competitive with peer-level institutions, others were not, particularly in the humanities and social sciences,” Tedesco wrote. “This investment helps to address differences, making sure we are attracting top students to Emory and that those that choose Emory as their academic community can pursue their studies with a greater sense of financial security.”
Tedesco added that LGS worked “over several years with leadership and partner units at Emory to establish the necessary budgetary foundations to prepare us for this significant investment.”
Duke University (N.C.), which has a graduate student union, offers doctoral students $31,160 annually; Rice University (Texas) pays $21,000 to $30,000 annually; and Vanderbilt University (Tenn.) pays $14,000 to $30,000 annually.
In Spring 2018, LGS announced that doctoral students would receive partial stipend support in August, which alleviated the “pay gap” between when students must move to Atlanta and incur relocation expenses and the time they receive their first paycheck, according to Tedesco.
EmoryUnite, the voluntary graduate student union, applauded the move, but believes there are other issues surrounding graduate student finances, such as the $1,000 student fees, a lack of vision insurance and more.
“Emory still needs to reduce the copay and deductible for our healthcare and provide vision insurance, to offer free access to Emory’s child care facilities and improve parental leave policies, to improve the grievance procedure for victims of discrimination and sexual harassment, and much else in order to truly demonstrate a commitment to the diversity and well-being of our student body,” EmoryUnite wrote in an Oct. 4 Facebook post. “The stipend increase represents a crucial step forward in bettering the quality of life of Laney graduate students, but it cannot be the only step.”
Because graduate students receive different stipend amounts depending on their departments, the lowest stipends in the humanities and social sciences will see a 29 percent raise, and the highest stipend is given at the Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences will receive a 2.5 percent, according to Jonathan Basile (24G), a voluntary graduate student union Emory Unite Organizing Committee member.
“I’ve heard … students getting 31,000 saying, ‘People were only getting 24? That’s offensive.’ That’s ridiculous that an institution with a $7 billion endowment would be paying that little to its teachers,” Basile said.
In addition, LGS doctoral students entering their sixth year currently have a reduced base stipend of $18,000 and it is unclear how exactly the stipend increase will affect their wages.
“That’s a pretty significant gap at this point,” Basile said. “Emory is acknowledging, and we’re glad that they are, that $24k is not a living wage, so how are they justifying paying people $18,000 a year?”
LGS student Courtney Rawlings (23G) said the stipend increase will help students from working class backgrounds access a graduate education.
“When you’re living on your stipend, I don’t know how you would exist without calling your parents or friends to borrow money occasionally,” Rawlings said. “Not only will this make [Emory] more prestigious, but this allows from people from all different backgrounds to pursue a degree in higher education where maybe before it would’ve been prohibited.”
LGS student Isaac Horwedel (17T, 23G) said increasing the stipend will allow more people to participate in graduate studies but that LGS still has to address other issues of inclusion.
“Paying graduate students a liveable wage allows for more people to be able to pursue graduate work just because it pays more,” Horwedel said. “What we would like to see is … a more proactive approach to providing liveable wage benefits and to more adequately address the different ways that people are denied access to graduate work from Laney instead of just the liveable wage.”
Basile said LGS has not yet contacted graduate students to discuss the issues listed on EmoryUnite’s Facebook post, but he said he would want a Q&A session with Tedesco and other Laney administrators.