Over spring break, Binghamton University finally 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 and will receive a $1,000 raise. While this raise is a big step forward, we hope the University will continue this momentum.
The University is — no doubt — in a tough spot. SUNY has been strained by years of underfunding, and BU’s administration must tap into its internal budget to fund increases in stipends. New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul has a monumentous task ahead of her as a $160 million deficit looms over the SUNY system, but any significant changes must begin with her. It should not be up to universities to ration their thinning budgets, and the Editorial Board strongly believes it is time for the state to step up.
That doesn’t take the BU off the hook, however. When looking at other large SUNY institutions, like the University at Buffalo — an institution comparable in both status and its surrounding area’s cost of living — BU falls short. Our raises for doctoral students on 10-month appointments are $2,000 lower and were announced months later. Additionally, Buffalo had already been paying its doctoral students $20,000 since 2019, higher than our current $17,000 floor.
Obviously, the circumstances faced by other schools are not necessarily to those identical to BU, but as a school that prides itself on its research ability — why shouldn’t our offerings be just as competitive? Provost Donald Hall warned that next year’s stipend increases would come at a $1.54 million annual cost to the University. Last year, BU announced its largest-ever donor campaign, EXCELERATE, with a $220 million dollar goal. As of this past December, only 25 percent of that goal is remaining. If we want to continue to draw students to conduct research and graduate-level work at our school — integral for our status within the SUNY system — a small portion of that funding should be promised toward graduate stipends.
Though not mentioned in the University’s press release, the recent stipend increases come after tireless advocacy by the school’s Graduate Student Employee Union’s (GSEU). The GSEU’s goal, an over $30,000 stipend for all graduate-level employees, is certainly ambitious — and likely a far way off from possible in the near future. But these calls for change are not new, nor are they native to Binghamton. All around the country, from Cornell University to state schools in California, graduate employees are calling for living wages. While public universities have limited financial mobility themselves, an eventual path toward living wages can only be accomplished through assistance from those in government.
Hochul’s proposal to use tuition hikes to fund SUNY deficits drew criticism — and it should. This massive burden should not be placed on students. The governor is now an entire three weeks late in announcing her state budget, but we hope she heeds the demands of those around her. Last month, the New York State Senate and State Assembly passed one-house budget resolutions that rejected SUNY tuition increases and called for increased operating funds for SUNY. We implore upon Gov. Hochul to explore new ways to fund our schools without limiting what makes them appealing in the first place. Hochul’s $1.5 billion dollar promise in new funding is promising, but it should be well-thought-out too.
For our graduate workers — which, though the University does not acknowledge in stipend increases, include more than just doctoral students — the path forward is certainly a difficult one, filled with bureaucratic hurdles. Non-doctoral graduate employees are still paying for broad-based fees, and their stipends remain low despite working comparable hours to their peers.
Still, the Editorial Board is glad to see that conversations regarding stipend increases are entering the public sphere in full-force. Like those calling for a living wage, we simply want what is best for our school, and we hope officials in both the University and state government will pledge the same.