Graduate student strike at Temple University raises questions over teaching assistant stipends

Kayla Gleason, Reporter

Graduate students at Temple University were on strike during the spring semester demanding improved wages. The strike ended after the students negotiated a union contract that will raise their annual salary to $27,000 by 2026.

At Kent State, graduate students receive tuition remission and partial coverage in health insurance. Each academic college determines the funding for its graduate assistants, but a minimum stipend is recommended university-wide.

A committee within the Graduate Deans Advisory Council previously reviewed the stipends and suggested a minimum of $11,000 at the masters and $16,000 at the doctoral level for the academic year.

While the minimum at Kent was raised, the minimum wage for jobs in Ohio is $10.10 per hour and, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the living wage is $15.33 an hour.

For Madison Rindfleisch, a graduate student in the College of Communication and Information, it is not only the low income but the lack of opportunities to receive scholarships or teaching assistantships that hurts students.

“At least in Comm, they have, from what I can tell, maybe one or two assistantships for grad students this semester, and then there are two scholarships you can apply for,” she said. “If you don’t get any of those, you’re basically just out of luck.”

Rindfleisch added that even alternative ways to pay for graduate education are harder to get.

“I don’t know if you can get the Pell Grant for grad school, but I got it all throughout undergrad, and if you get it for enough years, they’re like, ‘You’re done. You don’t get it anymore.’ So, I can’t even get a Pell Grant to pay for grad school,” she said.

Saun’jae Rucker, another graduate student in the College of Communication and Information, was hired to be one of the CCI teaching assistants for the Fall 2023 semester but agrees that it would be helpful for the administration to look into their stipends and wages more.

“$900 a month is not really livable, so I think we could be definitely compensated more,” she said.

Rindfleisch and Rucker were also curious about the amount of teaching assistantship positions offered by the other colleges, specifically in the STEM field. Rindfleisch found that nearly every undergraduate biology class she took was taught by different graduate students.

“At least for me, I would like to get my PhD, generally stay in academia and start teaching,” Rindfleisch said. “I’ve been very clear about that with basically everybody in the department, and so it’s also very frustrating not having that taken into account at all, that it would be very useful for my career long-term.”

Miriam Matteson, the program coordinator for the Ph.D. program in the College of Communication and Information, said this goes back to the amount of money that each college has.

“It depends on the financial health of each college,” she said. “It also varies by discipline, because some disciplines, you know, we’re kind of in competition with other universities. We’re trying to attract top students, and other universities may pay more stipends.”

Matteson said that they try to find a number that is sustainable for the college but still attracts prospective students.

For graduate or teaching assistants looking for other areas of employment on campus, they are allowed to work an additional eight hours on top of the 20 that come with the assistantships, capping their on-campus earnings at 28 hours a week.

Matteson also added that the fewer available scholarships in CCI ultimately come down to donors, and how many want to endow money to a particular college over time.

“I know the university-wide is looking at graduate education just across the whole university to say ‘How can we find other sources of scholarships? Can we find other sources of scholarships?’” Matteson said. “It is expensive, and there just seemed to be fewer kinds of opportunities in that tier of graduate education.”

Kayla Gleason is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].