UT, increase fellowship benefits for grad students

Justice DuBois, Columnist

For the past decade, Austin has steadily been on the rise technologically, economically and academically. These advantages may make Austin a great place to live, but the cost of living in the past 10 years has risen 17.8%. This drastic growth in the cost of living has greatly affected graduate students at UT, who are only able to receive fellowships between $24,000 and $40,000 a year. This amount is not enough to live even remotely comfortably in Austin. 

In order to help graduate students live comfortably, it is crucial that UT increases the aid distributed to students’ individual fellowships as well as reduces the work restrictions attributed to them.

Annie Bares, an English graduate student at UT and member of Underpaid at UT — an organization for graduate student workers organizing for higher wages — has seen a number of situations in which fellowships prohibited students from working outside jobs despite only being paid between $24,000 and $40,000. 

“This is a big problem, because if your fellowship is, you know, $20,000 a year, that’s obviously still really far off from the $32,000 a year living wage. A lot of grad students want to supplement that with other jobs and they’re not allowed to by the University. The University tracks hours we work, our paychecks, everything, in Workday. They can prevent grad students from working jobs to have more income,” said Bares. 

Underpaid at UT has brought these issues to the UT Graduate School, but there have been no resolutions made about removing work restrictions. The organization has also not received answers regarding their push for COVID-19 funding for students whose research and academics were impacted by the pandemic. 

Nicolas Hundley, communications coordinator in the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies, discussed plans for more funding. 

The Graduate School is committed to supporting graduate students and helping them succeed by providing a variety of employment opportunities and distributing $27 million in fellowship funds each year,” Hundley said in an email. “As announced in August of 2021, the University is providing $10.9 million in additional annual support for academic graduate student employees and for new fellowship opportunities. The Graduate School continues to work with colleges and schools to increase support in response to the rising cost of living in Austin.” 

Graduate students have yet to experience the benefits of the increased funding because of the low range of wages available to them. This statement also fails to acknowledge that many students are forced to live below the living wage in accordance with their fellowships. 

The UT Press Publishing Fellowships recently received backlash on Twitter regarding the fact that the fellowship only offered $37,500 and did not include health care. 

Cameron Ludwick, publicity and communications manager for UT Press, said that the fellowship is an endowed fellowship, which means there are funding complications that are out of their control.

“At UT Press, we’re really trying to do as much as we possibly can to make sure that our fellows have all of the resources that they need,” Ludwick said. “Living and working in Austin has its own unique challenges. That’s one of the reasons that we’ve tried to be diligent about increasing our fellowship stipends and continue to make plans for that and offer resources to our fellows so that they have the best possible options.” 

UT must account for Austin’s living costs when distributing fellowships and get rid of work restrictions to aid graduate students’ living expenses while they pursue their career and academic goals. Graduate students deserve more financial support while pursuing their studies.

DuBois is a public relations and sociology freshman from Killeen, Texas.