Graduate assistants deserve a living wage

There are over 7,900 graduate students in Nevada – 3,671 from UNR and 4,261 from UNLV. About a fifth of them are teaching or research assistants, meaning they are responsible for leading undergraduate courses and labs while maintaining their own research and academic obligations.

A graduate assistant position is a highly sought after academic position that covers a portion of tuition and fees while providing a modest monthly stipend. At UNR, the stipend provided by state-funded assistantships pays master’s students between $ 1,200 and $ 1,600 per month (or about $ 1,000 to $ 1,200 per month after tax), while the doctorate . students in STEM programs can receive up to $ 22,800 ($ 1,900 / month) over 10 months. At UNLV, master’s students receive a stipend of $ 11,250 ($ 1,250 / month pre-tax for nine months), while the highest stipend for the doctorate. students is $ 2,250 / month.

Factor in rent, utilities, food, toiletries, child care, and daily living expenses, and it’s not hard to see that many graduate students are facing a deficit. monthly from $ 500 to over a thousand dollars.

The leaders of our institutions seem to recognize the urgent need for a salary increase, but no one has yet been able to come up with a viable solution. It is up to each university to find the money for allowances in their budget, as Nevada does not have a statewide structure for allowance support, increases or cost of living adjustments. for graduate students. We are a big contributor to the economy, helping to raise the status of our institutions (which have again been given the Carnegie R1 classification), but we barely manage without any government assistance opportunities, no plans for improvement.

When graduate students have argued before the legislature in the past, they were basically told that higher education, especially higher education, is just not a top priority for this body. We need to have better buy-in from legislators to major overhauls of our higher education structures, including better oversight, better intervention and better support.

As president of the Association of Graduates and Professionals of UNLV, I once again attempted to raise this concern at the quarterly meeting of the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), in the hope that the regents would finally recognize the urgent need for an increase in scholarships for graduate students. After two colleagues and I patiently waited for eight hours of discussion, we had two minutes of public commentary to be heard. At exactly two minutes, we were thanked and asked to step off the podium – and a new subject for public comment was introduced. Once again, graduate student pleas for livable and functional wages and affordable housing have been stifled and overshadowed by a more “immediate” concern.

Ironically, during that same meeting there was an agenda item for a proposal to increase the fees for graduate student accommodation at UNR. My counterpart at UNR, Matthew Hawn, who is both the president of the Nevada Student Alliance (which includes the student presidents of each NSHE institution) as well as the president of the Graduate Student Association (GSA), made salient remarks against the proposal. , citing a survey of graduate students from UNR in which the most strongly opposed to the rent increase. (It should be noted that in February 2019, the Nevada Student Alliance (NSA) drafted and passed a resolution calling on the NSHE to conduct a system-wide study on housing stability and food insecurity. It has been almost three years since the resolution was presented to the Board of Regents and the Chancellor’s Office, yet we have been told that there has been no movement towards carrying out this study.)

After Matthew’s speech, Regent Jason Geddes, who made the original motion to approve the increase in housing costs, went on to say that “campuses must pass this information to students about their rates and let students know. of the “real cost” of their education is. He added, “We can do a study after that so that we are better prepared next year, but there are things here that we need today so that the students know what the cost will be.

The motion to increase graduate housing costs was passed with most of the regents voting for (Regent Byron Brooks voted against and Regent John Moran was absent). Again, another study saved for another day, with the financial burden of another increase falling directly on students.

I can’t help but think that many regents are unaware of the unique challenges and burdens that Nevada graduate assistants face – and how little has changed over time. A quick analysis of the regents’ educational backgrounds shows that only five of the 13 hold terminal degrees (a doctorate, MD, or JD) and only two from a Nevada institution (Geddes and Regent Mark Doubrava). According to a 2004 article in the Chronicle of higher education, the average allowance at the time for a doctorate in biology. student allowance was $ 22,000, while the average English teachers’ allowance was $ 11,000 – meaning that allowance rates have remained essentially unchanged over the past 20 years, while the cost of the life has increased dramatically.

Raising rents without increasing allowances is just one of the many issues plaguing higher education in Nevada (and frankly, the nation). Students are constantly struggling with student debt and poverty in hopes of having a better life for ourselves and our families. We were told to go to school – that it would be worth it, that we would find good jobs and start careers that we love. We graduate assistants have listened, and now we are grown adults living mostly on a teenager’s college budget. In the words of one of my favorite professors at UNLV, “Living in poverty shouldn’t be a requirement for a graduate degree. “

Not inclined to give up, Matthew and I recently worked with the Nevada Student Alliance to come up with a resolution to build affordable housing for graduate students. We have worked directly with our trustees at UNLV and UNR, and our institution presidents have expressed their support for this initiative. We also collectively drafted a proposal and requested US bailout funds through the office of Governor Steve Sisolak. It is still not clear whether the cause will be taken on by the state, but we have done our best to prepare the ground for the construction of affordable housing for graduate students from North and South.

NSHE, as a whole, is asking quite a bit of the governor’s office – showing once again that education in our state is significantly underfunded and in desperate need of state support and regulation. We need to invest in higher education – and invest in graduate students. We need your support and the support of lawmakers who understand the terrible crises we collectively experience.

Nicole Thomas is a born and raised Nevadan pursuing a doctorate. in educational psychology at the UNLV. She holds a master’s degree in education and a bachelor’s degree in biology. She is president of the Association of Graduate and Professional Students, which represents the interests of more than 4,000 graduate and professional students at UNLV.

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