Higher Education

Graduate student stipends in the Midwest are falling behind the rest of the country

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Caleb Klipowicz is a Ph.D. candidate in sociocultural anthropology on the College of Iowa, the place he’s a member of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Staff of America Native 896/Marketing campaign to Set up Graduate College students.

A headshot photo of Caleb Klipowicz.

Caleb Klipowicz

Permission granted by Caleb Klipowicz


Tens of 1000’s of graduate college students within the U.S. depend on stipends offered by way of educating and analysis assistant positions to pay their approach by way of faculty. That is maybe very true for working-class college students at public R1 colleges, just like the College of Iowa, the place I research and work. 

This yr alone practically 2,000 of us in our bargaining unit are chargeable for educating the majority of undergraduate programs or operating important analysis for school, on high of our personal rigorous research and analysis targets. However whereas graduate college students elsewhere are seeing pay raises that sustain with value of dwelling, our pay has been stagnant the previous six years. Because of this whereas present college students are struggling to get by, potential college students could begin trying to greener pastures exterior the Midwest for his or her post-graduate training.

Low pay for graduate pupil staff is way from an Iowa-only drawback. A study by Boston College professor Eric Weiskott revealed final yr by the Fashionable Language Affiliation      affords a glimpse on the poverty wages most of us reside with to get by. Utilizing obtainable knowledge on English doctoral pupil stipends, Weiskott estimates that nationwide, graduate college students earn a median of round $25,000 per yr. Right here within the Midwest, that common is $23,234 a yr. 

On the College of Iowa, beginning pay for graduate educating and analysis assistants is even decrease. For the 2022-2023 faculty yr, grad pupil staff like me are paid $20,708, about 150% of the Federal Poverty Degree for a person revenue earner. That is only 9% greater than after I began working right here in 2017. 

In the meantime, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a cumulative rise within the shopper worth index for our area from January 2019 to January 2023 at 18.4%, over double the annual increase quantity now we have acquired. The result’s an efficient pay lower for graduate staff who’re anticipated to place out the identical quantity of high-quality work annually. In consequence, graduate staff right here in Iowa are including extra debt by way of student loans, taking over clandestine second jobs to make ends meet, and relying on local food pantries to fill their cabinets.

Low pay and rising value of dwelling had been key points for a few of the grad employee unions in Huge Ten colleges, like University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Michigan, who organized a few of the first grad employee unions 5 a long time in the past. Extra lately, high-profile strikes like these at Columbia University in 2021 and the University of California system final yr targeted largely on getting cost-of-living changes of their paychecks. 

Seeing what staff gained because of collective bargaining elsewhere solely bolstered efforts at colleges right here within the Midwest. Graduate college students at Indiana University, Northwestern University and University of Chicago have all moved to kind labor unions prior to now few years. As one graduate student at Indiana explained final yr, after years of attempting to barter with the administration with out a union, “it grew to become more and more obvious that one of the simplest ways to safe the dignity that we’re searching for in each training and in working situations is thru a union for graduate staff.”

Sarcastically, extra established unions like ours in Iowa now face large obstacles to hanging on to our earlier contract wins. The Campaign to Organize Graduate Students, or COGS, on the College of Iowa first affiliated with United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Staff of America, or UE, beginning in 1996. It went on to win medical health insurance, tuition and payment protection, and a livable stipend (on the time). 

However over the previous decade, Republican-controlled legislatures within the state handed anti-union laws that now threaten to roll again our contract positive aspects and will even dissolve our unions solely. Our bosses on the College of Iowa and the Iowa Board of Regents now exploit the anti-worker authorized panorama to maintain our pay raises beneath the price of dwelling and scrape additional advantages from our contract, even after the Iowa Public Worker Relations Board discovered them responsible of bargaining with us in bad faith simply because the regulation modified.

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