When I showed up at my first tenure-track job in a right-to-work, kind of Southern state, adjunct writing faculty were being asked to pay tuition for a summer pedagogy seminar run by the writing director in an illegal “pay-to-work” scheme.

(Unless the prospective adjuncts were spouses of tenure-track faculty, in which case they still had to take the course, but were graciously comped the graft.)

This was 1998, at the University of Louisville. Six-year graduation rates under aggressive “quality management” were around 30% (where they remain). And the latest innovation in “enabling access to higher education” was indenturing college hopefuls to UPS and discarding them without a degree, in a scam I’ve previously discussed as Extreme Work-Study.

Ten years later, the South writhes again.

According to a detailed survey (large pdf) run by the graduate employees at the University of South Carolina, the mean 2008 assistantship on that campus was under $10,000.

Even single persons earning at that rate qualify for food stamps in South Carolina, as the report points out, placing them well under the U.S. poverty threshold. But wait, there’s more.

The majority of the several hundred respondents with assistantships indicated they still have to pay tuition to good ‘ol USC! (Yep, that means they pay to work.)

They pay for health care, too. And apparently it’s not much of a plan.

Even though they are not recognized by the state as “employees,” they are barred from having other jobs, and most make up the shortfall by extensive loans, parental grants, or a spouse’s income.

The university’s own estimate of living expenses for an undergraduate is 40% more than it pays the average grad student.

The grad student association calculates that the average single graduate student on assistantship is able to cover less than half of their monthly expenses of $2171. The pay is little more than 1/3 of what graduate students with children require, leading to an annual “unmet financial burden” of over $14,000.

For a graduate student in the humanities (nationally averaging nearly ten years to degree), Ph.D. recipients in this category would beg, borrow or overwork well over $100,000–all to get a job in their 30s, if they were moderately fortunate, paying about 50 grand to start.

The University of South Carolina — in close relation to the poverty of its workforce — is bristling with new buildings, institutes, and fat paychecks for administrators thoroughly versed in that species of doltery known as quality management.

In addition to the compelling quantitative analysis, the impoverished grad students generated a massive file of qualitative responses. You can read them all (warning, large pdf).

Before I do that, I should say that I’ve received more private email from faculty at USC — before I even released the blog post — than I have on any other student-oriented post. Even the posts about McGill, with 80 or 90 commenters on the blog, didn’t generate as much private email.

In general, this email was of the concerned variety, deploring the exploitation of the grads, noting the grandiose claims of the administration regarding research competitiveness while “there has been no corresponding attempt to build and improve the graduate program and conditions,” as one interlocutor tactfully phrased it.

Some of my faculty correspondents, though, struck an interesting additional note. For instance, the same correspondent noted that some of the older faculty had made modest efforts in support of the grads, but that younger faculty weren’t very interested.

“There are people here interested in working to help the graduate students,” she noted. “[But] it is not just the right-to-work state that keeps people from thinking more radically. It’s a kind of liberal anti-unionism generally on the part of the junior faculty.”

(This sentiment reinforces some of the claims made about young tenure-track faculty by a not-very-good recent New York Times article to which I’d be responding if I wasn’t overdue on the USC situation. More on that tomorrow. Though if you can’t wait, Craig Smith has already responded most excellently, as has Joe Berry on the ADJ-L list, which you would know already if you subscribed to it.)

Occasonal student respondents would take on a butch tone: “I won’t complain I chose this life with my eyes open. If I want a different job, I think I should get off my ass and get one. Sorry, but that is just how I feel. I could move to a school that pays more, I could chose a major that pays more, any number of things. As long as I am not lied to re: my comp, I don’t think I should complain.”

And many individual respondents wrote about individual faculty who were understanding of their situation, were reasonable supervisors of their employment, and accommodated their studies.

Overall, however, the qualitative responses included numerous complaints about both low pay and faculty insensitivity.

The cost of attending graduate school full-time is not adequately covered by scholarships, work study, and approved loan programs.Although only supported for a teaching assistantship, it is understood that we must still spend a full-time load doing research in the lab.I cannot afford needed dental work.

If I did not have a spouse with a steady income, I could not be in graduate school.

While graduate students are known for living in poverty, it is really hard to concentrate when financial concerns are so immense.

I work 40 to 50 hours a week. I am only paid for part time work, which is 20 hours.

Some professors chastise students if they put too much time into their schoolwork!

The worst is the lack of financial compensation. For the amount of work and service I do for the school of music, I expected that I would at least get a tuition waiver.I’m always at school doing work for my assistantship rather than for class!I am paid $114 every two weeks, which averages out to about $5/6 an hour. My supervisor hired another intern at my agency to fill the eight hours that I chose not to work, that intern got paid $12 an hour for 20 h. week doing less amount of work than I did as graduate assistant. A graduate assistantship is only beneficial if you need instate tuition, other than that, the student needs to get a second job because the amount you make is crap.

If it wasn’t for my parents paying tuition, I would be swimming in debt or up to my ears in loans.

I was getting paid about $50 per month until the last semester, after my tuition deduction.

When I worked with a professor who allowed me to work on weekends to make up time it was easier than punching a clock. However, the full-time academic load of a doctoral program … specifically the amount of reading and writing … time that I could use for studying is used for graduate assistantship work. The work hours should not be more than 10. It is not healthy for individuals to find themselves having to work on something every single day for the majority of the day. I am working diligently on determine how to get in exercise now to hold off burnout. I do wish that I would have looked closer at other schools that offered stipends without work obligations. D[ue] to work, my school experience is not as enjoyable and now I am considering dropping down to part time and just getting work in the community to create a level of sanity in my life. At this time, it is more just getting the work done instead of engaging in the process of learning.

A required teaching load of 2 classes per term (more if the department needs it, I have taught 3 classes per term for 2 years) is far too much work combined with research, coursework, traveling, and dissertation prep.

I’m very fortunate to have a spouse that supports me.

I will run out of funds for attending school after about semester 3 (this is my 1st semester)

very high stress level

I worry about my expenses a lot

As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests, financial stability takes precedence over all other needs, especially expansion of the mind. Sometimes it is difficult to focus on scholarship when I am worried about having enough money to cover the gas for my commute.

I don’t let my extra job get in the way of my doing homework, but I don’t get any research done. and being hungry and frustrated about money all the time makes it
difficult to do anything terribly productively.

I have to spend a lot of time trying to deal with budgeting and organizing finances.

My terrible financial situation stresses me out daily.

Since I have to work so many hours during the summer, I have very little time then to devote to my larger research projects.

My financial worries significantly interfere with my ability to concentrate on school work and job responsibilities.

It is just not possible for lower class person to enter into graduate school without incurring an enormous amount of debt. Especially for those of us that have health problems which our CRAP GRADUATE SCHOOL INSURANCE will not cover. This is a serious problem.

I routinely consider abandoning my degree because of my horrendous financial situation. I am 30 years old. I cannot afford to bleed money. I have virtually no savings, and it is time I earned a living. I have about $35k in student loan debt now, and it is likely to double by the time I am finished. My expected income with this degree is at best only a few thousand more than I could make right now.

While not paying grad students very well is a great way to keep a healthy turnover (either by graduating out or dropping out), I do wish I could start to save money now, rather than waiting the 10-15 years before I have a “real job”. Money stress is a strong factor when considering whether or not to continue in academia.

Take away the tuition cost (11,000-14,000–including fees) and an adult is left on trying to live on 10,000-13,000 a year. That is poverty level. All adults in my doctoral cohort are late 40’s early 50’s. This makes it difficult financially to not work–which is what we are told they expect. Although I find it interesting that we are assigned graduate assistantships to work at the University for a Stipend. Maybe the thinking is that it is easier. I am grateful for my stipend, but I am looking at other options for down the road. At least when you work for the private sector, if you have something to do, need a day you can take some vacation time. Here it is, get in your 15 hours or else. Too much stress! I am too old for that. Have already lead a professional life with flexibility at this stage–it feels stressful. Maybe these are issues isolated due to my age–but there are a lot of “older than 40″ students in doctoral programs.

I make enough at my GA to buy groceries and gas that’s all it provides. Student loans cover tuition fees and rent, then I have about 1800 left for the semester, if I was a traditional student this might be enough, but I have a child to support so I came here with some savings and receive child support regularly.






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