Failure to Fund Research Curbs NSSR’s Appeal
Since enrolling at The New School for Social Research nearly five years ago, Elizabeth Loran has had seven teaching assistantships and five teaching fellowships. She works twenty hours a week at her work-study job. Last year, she spent a total of 70 hours each week pursuing her Ph.D. in clinical psychology and working. But at the end of every semester, when she sits down to look over her rent and other bills, Loran is unsure of how she will continue to pay for her studies.
Unlike many top graduate schools, NSSR does not fund the majority of its Ph.D. students. In the 2009-2010 academic year only 17 percent of students at NSSR received full tuition support from The New School, compared to 100 percent at the Ph.D. programs of Columbia and New York University. This is compounded by the remarkably low stipends that NSSR offers to its teaching assistants, teaching fellows and research assistants. Because of such inadequate funding, students like Loran must work numerous low-paying jobs to make ends meet, leaving them with less time to devote to their studies.
“I wish that I didn’t need to be so stressed about money and working all hours,” Loran said. “I also always have the gnawing sense that it just doesn’t need to be this hard.”
At NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science, Ph.D. students receive full tuition coverage under the MacCracken program, and a minimum stipend of $21,000 per year. Students at NSSR are guaranteed neither, but can receive comparably low stipends for jobs within the university: TAs earn $3,750, TFs earn $5,000, and RAs generally earn $4,000, with a few exceptions.
According to Robert Kostrzewa, an associate dean at NSSR, part of the problem is The New School’s meager alumni endowment. Because most of the university’s money comes from student tuition, it cannot fund graduate students the way other universities do. He also said that the number of TA, TF and RA jobs available throughout the university is insufficient.
“The New School does not currently have enough resources and job opportunities to fund its graduate students the way wealthy universities do,” Kostrzewa wrote in an email to the Free Press.
While most universities consider TAs, TFs and RAs as full-time workers, the small stipends offered at NSSR means that a student would have to get three or four different positions to be considered full-time. Even then, his or her stipend would be less than that of students at other universities.
Jonathan Cogliano, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Economics Department, said that this results in a “cobbling” process: students apply for and take on as many TA, TF or RA jobs as possible to try and form a sufficient stipend. But this is unstable and that results in an overworked student body.
“Since many of our students are underfunded and are compelled to hold too many of these jobs,” Kostrzewa said, “their time to degree tends to be longer than what it is for their peers at top universities.”
Both Cogliano and Loran said that the lack of funding is detrimental to the university, as well as the students, since it slows graduation rates and ultimately reduces the amount of money that the New School receives in alumni endowments.
“Better run and wiser universities protect their graduate students from excessive financial burden and harm,” Loran said. “The endowment at The New School is so low because students like myself and my classmates feel no desire to give back to an institution that has made their education so financially difficult to obtain.”
In recent years, NSSR’s student government, the Graduate Faculty Student Senate, has made this issue one of its highest priorities. Cogliano, who currently holds the position of student fee board chair on the GFSS, admitted that the large stipends offered at places like NYU and Columbia represent “luxury” circumstances. But he said that the GFSS is trying to get stipends raised, even marginally.
In March 2009, the GFSS achieved a minor victory. Then-President Bob Kerrey and Provost Tim Marshall announced that TF stipends would increase from $3,000 to $5,000 and TA stipends from $3,000 to $3,750.
The university has also attempted to alleviate the problem by increasing the number of TA and TF positions available. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of TF positions jumped from 47 to 80, and the number of TA positions went from 43 to 109.
Still, funding for Ph.D. students at NSSR remains low and unstable, making for an under-financed and overworked student body. Neither Cogliano nor Loran regret their decision to study at the New School, but they both admit that their lives would have been easier had they studied elsewhere.
“Every time I speak with students who I know are planning on applying to The New School, I inform them that the funding is very bad and I encourage them to apply elsewhere if they can,” said Loran. “I feel in fairness to these students that I must make them aware of what they are getting themselves into.”