Survey available to graduate students asks for transparency about stipends

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A new graduate student task force is aiming to provide more oversight and transparency for the oft-overlooked part of Case Western Reserve University.

Currently CWRU keeps no record of the stipends individual departments and programs pay to graduate students. The Graduate Student Stipend task force, founded by Steffany Homolka, is trying to change this.

The survey, launched at the beginning of February and available until Feb. 28, asks about students’ stipend-related finances, tuition waivers and travel funds. According to GSS member Michael Bane, the survey should take around 10 minutes to complete. It is completely anonymous, though students who complete the survey can enter to win one of three $50 Amazon gift cards.

“Many graduate students at CWRU earn below or near the poverty line, forcing them to take on second jobs or take out expensive loans,” said Bane. “We hope our survey is a first step toward identifying and addressing their plight.”

The task force believes that transparency within departments about graduate student stipends will put the university in a position to give students the resources they need to be successful in their time at CWRU. Stipends are important not only for attracting new potential graduate students, but helps current students conduct research and teach undergraduates at a high level.

“It’s embarrassing how low some programs’ stipends are and the fact that students cannot live off of these stipends, and yet we are often barred from obtaining outside employment,” said Homolka. “It might take away from our ability to contribute to the university.”

The task force intends to publish the anonymous data collected from the survey, although the mode of publication has not been determined yet.

Currently it is impossible to compare graduate education at CWRU with peer institutions when there is a lack of data regarding graduate pay.

According to Bane, many students are expressing confusion and dissatisfaction over their stipends but have no data available to ask even simple questions to go about reform.
Homolka says that CWRU’s secrecy precludes students from being able to ask questions or institute reform.

“The data will help identify gross disparities in stipends within departments, schools and colleges,” said Bane. “Some programs in the College of Arts and Sciences, for instance, pay their doctoral students half as much as other programs do.”

CWRU’s administration has been supportive of the task force’s endeavor and has been willing to work with them.

Ultimately the task force intends to put forth a resolution to the university. The details of the resolution will depend on the survey, but the task force believes it will likely demand the university affirm its commitment to transparency, competitiveness and fairness in graduate stipends.