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Half of Grad Student Survey Respondents Say They Are ‘Often’ or ‘Always’ Worried About Their Finances

GSC Meeting
The Harvard Graduate Student Council discusses the recent Financial Wellness Survey conducted among the student body Wednesday evening.

Half of the respondents to a survey on graduate students’ perceptions of their economic security reported that they are “often” or “always” worried about “financial issues.”

The survey — administered by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Student Council, formerly known as the Graduate Student Council — received 331 responses out of 4521 total GSAS students. The GSC presented the survey results Wednesday night at its monthly meeting, during which it also voted to consider publicly endorsing the graduate student union’s strike authorization vote.

Advisor to the GSC’s Executive Board Blakely B. O’Connor said that the survey’s response rate of 7.3 percent is “five or six times higher” than past surveys and that the distribution of respondents is representative of the larger graduate student population.

They survey found that disparities in perceived economic security exist between graduate students from different academic divisions. Seventy-five percent of respondents in the humanities reported that they are “often” or “always” worried about their finances, while nearly 30 percent of respondents in the sciences reported feeling the same. Just over half of SEAS students and just over half of social sciences students answered “often” or “always.”

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The survey also revealed differences in perceived economic security based on the number of years spent in a graduate program. Less than 50 percent of respondents in their first and second years — G1s and G2s — said they worried about financial issues “often” or “always.” For G3 and G4 respondents, this figure increased to nearly 50 percent, and for G5 and G6 respondents, over 50 percent.

Furthermore, over 80 percent of respondents entering their seventh and eighth year at GSAS answered “often” or “always,” while 100 percent of students over their eighth year answered likewise.

“I really felt some of the emotion that was coming through in different people’s responses,” O’Connor said. “While it might be obvious that your financial security decreases as you get into those higher g-years, there’s a small number of people that are very, very worried and anxious about their current financial situation and have mounting insecurity about their future job outlook.”

The survey also asked students to indicate areas in which they feel most financially secure. The most popular answers were food, housing, and daily expenses, which each garnered more than 40 responses.

When asked what areas cause the most financial stress, more than 50 students answered rent, over 40 answered savings, and nearly 40 answered healthcare.

The survey also found that nearly 55 percent of respondents do not have a “dedicated, tax-sheltered” retirement savings plan.

O’Connor said the GSC plans to tailor their spring event series on financial wellness to address students’ most pressing needs. She also said the GSC will bring the data to GSAS deans to discuss possible remedies.

Two representatives from the Harvard Graduate Students’ Union-United Automobile Workers also spoke at the meeting and presented a proposal to the GSC to consider issuing a public statement in support of the union’s strike authorization vote.

The union first announced its intention to hold the vote in a July letter to University President Lawrence S. Bacow that had more than 300 signatures at the time. The letter cited frustration with the state of contract negotiations, which began nearly a year ago.

Graduate student union representatives Sarah E. Loomis and Erik Baker called on the GSC to reaffirm its April statement of support over the “No Carve Out” issue, a debate over whether the contract’s sexual harassment policy will allow for third party investigators.

“We’re coming back to the GSC to say, you know, you called on the University to do the right thing on this important piece of the contract fight in the spring,” Baker said. “They have very publicly and adamantly refused to do the right thing. So, will you come back now and endorse this next piece of our ongoing fight here?”

The GSC voted to consider the union’s proposal. They then approved to vote on issuing a statement next month.

The GSC also voted Wednesday to change the language in its by-laws to gender-neutral expressions where necessary and to allocate $18,000 to more than 15 GSAS student affinity groups.

—Staff Writer Luke A. Williams can be reached at luke.williams@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LukeAWilliams22.

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