Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Graduate Students Face Money Woes

Pipedream Article (10/24/06)

Originally published in Pipedream

Graduate students can face money woes
by Dara Stephens

As if graduate school wasn’t hard enough, the nearly 3,000 graduate students at Binghamton University are being left to find a way to pay their tuition with insufficient help from the University.

According to Wazi Apoh, president of Binghamton University’s Graduate Student Organization, the main impediment for financing their education, is the issue of residency for graduate students.

Tuition scholarships are available in limited numbers, and in order to receive in-state tuition rates, students must have been residents of New York State for at least a year before the first day of the semester.

International students on F and J temporary visas are ineligible to become New York State residents. They must pay the out-of-state tuition rates unless they receive a full tuition scholarship from the University.

These students on temporary visas are ineligible to work off campus, severely hindering their ability to pay for their tuition without scholarships. The only employment opportunities to them are on campus, where they are limited to working no more than 20 hours per week. Only during the summer and after graduation are they allowed to find a “practical training” position that must be related to their course of study.

Such positions as teaching assistants, research assistants and graduate assistants are in high demand among graduate students, especially international students, as it allows them to earn their tuition in an environment that accommodates their personal class schedule. However, the actual number of positions available is extremely limited.

“Some departments increase workload for the TAs, as it is in the case of the English department, or they are forced to stretch their limited resources to fund graduate students for only one semester at a time,” Apoh said. Because of the limited financial resources of the departments themselves, many graduate TAs, RAs and GAs are only given funding for half of the school year. This still leaves the students looking for a means to support themselves for the additional semester.

As funding has become difficult to obtain, most students depend on loans to support themselves as well as to pay their tuition. This leaves the students “at or below poverty level” said Apoh, and repayment becomes a large burden upon graduation. International students, who must pay the University additional fees, are ineligible for student loans, leaving Apoh to wonder “how they pull through to graduate.”

“Because this is a public university with relatively low tuition and fees, which the New York State legislature or SUNY-system determines, the University does not have funds to support more than a portion of its graduate students,” said Nancy Stamp, dean of the University’s graduate school. It costs the school $35,000 per year to educate each graduate student, leaving little room for financial aid. Stamp noted that this is an issue at any public university.

The University has acknowledged the funding issues, Stamp said, and has already begun to implement changes in the system. Stipend packages for doctoral students increased by approximately $4,000 this year, and the University plans to top that figure next year. The school’s ultimate goal is to be in the top 25 percent of stipend packages nationally. Last year, 750 graduate students were offered some form of aid by the school, and that number is expected to increase, as Stamp predicts the graduate enrollment will soon be 25 percent of the student body.

The GSO is currently petitioning the University to grant more full-year fellowships to graduate students, as well as to waive the international student fee. The organization looks forward to the first Binghamton University Graduate Research Day in March as an opportunity to call more attention to the graduate students’ funding plight.