July 29, 2010
The University of California attracts some of the best graduate students in the nation. However, in light of excessive budget cuts in state funding, recent reports showed that the UC's reputation and academic quality may be in jeopardy.
According to The Daily Cal, a recent report from the university system as well as a survey of UC Berkeley graduate students found that many were unhappy with compensation, working conditions, university support and affordable housing.
Although the UC system continues to be an academic competitor, its level of financial compensation is less than universities outside of the system. In 2007, UC graduate students received approximately $1,000 less than students from competing universities.
Inside Higher Ed added that "Berkeley graduate students receive about $16,000 a year after tuition is remitted". According to Jessica Taal, Berkeley unit chair for UAW Local 2865, which represents academic student employees, said, "Stanford graduate students get twice that."
The Daily Cal reported that Steven Beckwith, UC vice president for research and graduate studies, said, "We know that our stipends need to be more competitive. I don't know in this budget climate if we'll be able to do that, but that needs to be a long-term goal."
The report also showed that top research universities outside the UC system had higher graduate enrollment rates--43 percent of admitted students enrolled at UC, whereas 57 percent enrolled at other top schools. Researchers speculated that the gap in compensation may have played a role in students' final decisions.
Inside Higher Ed reported that graduate students were also discontent with UC's reduced student services, amount of financial aid--particularly among students who relied primarily on loans--and affordable housing.
According to the survey, graduate student parents--about ten percent of the student population--rated UC support as inadequate. Heather Pineda, director of the Student Health Insurance Plan, told The Daily Cal that students were more likely to find affordable coverage elsewhere. "Unfortunately, most insurance carriers won't offer a dependent program that's affordable to such a small population of students," she explained.
Inside Higher Ed also pointed out that 30 percent of survey respondents said finding appropriate and affordable housing was the biggest challenge. Taal stated that housing is simply not affordable as an average one-bedroom apartment around Berkeley costs $1,400 a month. With insufficient financial support, graduate students cannot afford such a high cost of living.
The report concluded that "more funding is required to attract the highest-quality graduate students". According to the University of California, Kim Barrett, dean of graduate studies at UC San Diego, regarded graduate students as the "lifeblood" of the UC system. In 2009, although UC had seven percent of all graduate students in the U.S., "they won 20 to 30 percent of the most competitive and prestigious fellowships in science, arts and humanities".
Top notch students are not only vital for cutting edge research; they also help recruit and retain some of the best faculty. "[Top faculty] would not come to a place without vibrant graduate programs and without outstanding graduate students," argued UC President Mark Yudof. Christopher Kutz, chair of the UC Berkeley division of the Academic Senate, further emphasized this fact to The Daily Cal: "[Grad students] are the main source of labor in research projects. The success of the projects depends on the graduate students you recruit."
Henry Powell, chair of the Academic Senate, also argued that more funding is needed as losing graduate students may also have negative effects on California's "knowledge-based economy". "These kinds of cuts hurt the whole state because our economy is very dependent on discovery. Often innovative and powerful research is done by graduate students," he said.
Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin
"Graduate students drive UC research, help keep top faculty," universityofcalifornia.edu, July 2, 2010, Andy Evangelista
"Money Matters," insidehighered.com, July 27, 2010, Iza Wojciechowska
"UC Graduate Student Pay Lags Behind Competition," dailycal.org, July 26, 2010, Alisha Azevedo