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Student government combats OSU’s low rankings in graduate stipends

While Ohio State’s competitiveness might usually be measured in football and basketball rankings, the Council of Graduate Students has been pushing to pull OSU up from the bottom of the pack in an area away from the scoreboard.

In July 2011, the CGS unanimously passed a resolution, which included the proposal for an annual review of graduate stipends, that will compare the amount OSU gives to graduate associates with those amounts given by other benchmark institutions. In a presentation based on the 2010-2011 academic year, the Graduate Associate Compensation and Benefits Committee compared graduate stipends at OSU to several universities, including Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin.

“We looked OK at the upper end of the scale and even in the middle,” said Daphne Pringle, chair of the GCBC. “But it was those people that were getting paid the minimum that we thought was really important.

“Our minimum was … quite a bit lower than most other minimums,” Pringle said.

Of the nine schools included in the presentation, OSU ranked at the bottom in minimum stipends paid to graduate research assistants and second-to-last in minimum stipends paid to graduate teaching assistants and graduate administrative assistants. OSU fared similarly in median stipends paid to graduate associates, according to the presentation.

“We highlighted a problem last year,” said Vijay Gadepally, president of the CGS. “We’re happy with the way the administration is moving forward.”

Gadepally said the annual review will begin this summer with the hope of addressing two factors that will measure OSU’s competitiveness: a livable minimum stipend and a good median.

“The median is what recruits students,” Gadepally said.

In the 2010-11 academic year, the median stipends for graduate associates sat at $16,000 for research assistants, $14,900 for teaching assistants and $11,800 for graduate administrative assistants, Pringle said.

Increasing the funding for graduate associates might cost more up front, but it will save the university money overall, Pringle said.

“In the long run, you’re probably saving money off … having (graduate students) teach a course or having them work in the lab as compared to paying a full-time lab assistant,” Pringle said.

Getting better scholars with more competitive stipends can also bring the university more money for research, Pringle said.

“You have great graduate students, you’re going to do great research and you’re going to get more research dollars from the federal funding institutions.”

At minimum, Pringle said she wants the annual review to bring OSU up to speed with other universities.

“We would like to be at least at the median of our peer institutions so you can look around and say, ‘I’m paid fairly,'” she said.

Along with the proposal for annual review of graduate stipends, the CGS also voted to raise the minimum stipend for graduate associates to $10,500 from the previous $9,000. While the about 16 percent increase is a step in the right direction for Zach Kenitzer, a graduate teaching assistant in the Knowlton School of Architecture, he said there is more to be done.

Kenitzer is paid the minimum stipend: $10,500 over a nine month period. He said his take-home pay comes out to about $900 a month over the school year.

“Ohio State gets a bargain.” Kenitzer said. “It’s not easy to make ends meet off just that stipend.”

Kenitzer said many graduate associates might be tempted to pick up off-campus jobs to supplement their income, but their responsibilities in class and work often add up to 60 hours a week — leaving no time for other work.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” Kenitzer said.

Better stipends for graduate associates is not just a high hope for Kenitzer, it is a requirement if OSU is going to be a successful university.

“The university should be trying as hard as it can to move stipends for graduate students higher,” Kenitzer said. “And furthermore, they have the ability to do so. And if they want to make this a great university … that is one of the steps that will be necessary.”

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