Binghamton University is the latest in a slew of universities committing to raising stipends for graduate student employees.
Over spring break, the University announced it would raise minimum stipends for full-time, 10-month doctoral students from $17,000 to $21,000 in fall 2023. Doctoral students already receiving stipends above $21,000 will receive a $1,000 raise.
Other large SUNY institutions have also recently committed to stipend increases in fall 2023, including the University at Buffalo and Stony Brook University. The University at Buffalo announced on Dec. 6 that it would raise minimum stipends for 10-month Ph.D. appointments from $20,000 to $23,000. Two months later, Stony Brook University announced their impending stipend raise for graduate, teaching and research assistants — from around $23,000 to $26,000.
The stipends do not yet meet the demands of BU’s Graduate Student Employee Union (GSEU), which is calling for a “living wage” — or $31,896, which is the living cost of a single adult with no children in Broome County as per Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator. The GSEU is also calling for stipends for all graduate employees, beyond just doctoral students.
According to Donald Hall, BU’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, BU’s stipend raise was funded by the University itself.
“This increase isn’t funded by SUNY or the state of New York,” Hall said. “We are using scarce internal resources to fund it. Approximately 830 doctoral students will be impacted by the raises, at a cost to the University of approximately $1.54 million per year.”
Last year, the University announced the removal of broad-based fees for Ph.D. students. Hall attributed recent initiatives largely to inflation and keeping the school competitive in recruiting and cost-of-living standards.
GSEU officials pointed to Stony Brook University and the University at Buffalo as institutions more aligned with its goals. The former provides a minimum stipend for all graduate workers — regardless of program — while the latter’s offerings remain above the University’s doctoral stipends.
Both institutions, however, do not provide living wages, but Emily Blakley — the president of GSEU and a sixth-year Ph.D. student studying psychology — feels their commitments to improving stipends are different.
“However, both Stony Brook and Buffalo were quick to understand that graduate employee wages were critical to the functioning of their universities, and we wish [BU] had been much quicker to realize how important we are to this institution,” Blakley wrote in an email. “With all the pushback and delays, it really made a lot of us feel unappreciated despite the labor we contribute day in and day out, a lot of it unpaid.”
Many are looking toward Gov. Kathy Hochul for change, as 19 SUNY schools are operating at a collective deficit of $170 million. Hochul had promised to allocate a historic $1.5 billion in new funding to SUNY and CUNY, but this would in-part be funded by a six percent annual tuition increase at SUNY’s four research institutions.
Hall said he cannot “predict the future,” but that the University will make effort to meet the necessities of doctoral students.
“SUNY provides no resources to our campus to support doctoral students or this initiative,” Hall said. “Similarly I can’t comment on what Buffalo can do given its resources. We will do the best we can. All 10-month university supported Ph.D. students are covered by the increase in wages.”
The GSEU said it will continue advocating for further stipend increases. Last week, its members raised signs outside of BU’s baseball stadium during national student employee appreciation week.
Troy Hunter, a second-year graduate student studying history, said he found recent stipend increases to be an encouraging start.
“Obviously, the increase from a $17,000 stipend to $21,000 is still quite a ways off from the $35,000 that the Living Wage Campaign has been advocating for,” Hunter wrote in an email. “That said, an extra $4,000 should still be seen as a victory, especially for workers such as myself who have found it difficult to cover the associated costs of living on a lower-end stipend.”
Lia Richter was a contributing reporter for this article