In a welcome turn of events, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences recently announced a 3 percent increase in the stipend for Ph.D. students on financial aid for the 2019-2020 academic year. Graduate students often face considerable economic struggles in light of the ever-increasing cost of living in the greater Cambridge-Boston area. We greatly support the stipend increase, as it will serve to combat these difficulties and promote the financial accessibility of graduate programs.
We have previously opined that Harvard should do more to help graduate students and work to improve their quality of life. This is a step in the right direction in doing so. Their dual role as both students and instructors — many work as teaching fellows for undergraduate courses across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — places them at the heart of what makes Harvard run. The University should work to ensure that their quality of life mirrors their importance.
While the increase does represent tangible progress towards that goal, it does not mean that Ph.D. students’ economic troubles are solved. While the value of the stipend changes from year to year, these changes are not always so generous. Last academic year, GSAS also instituted a 3 percent increase, but the prior year only brought a 1.5 percent increase. Given that rent and food costs across the greater Boston area have risen in the last few years, unpredictable increases in the stipend expose graduate students to the risk that those increases will not keep pace with those in the cost of living. As a result, we are concerned that the University is not providing adequate resources for graduate students to thrive at Harvard, especially if they live near campus. Harvard Square and surrounding areas have only become more expensive and inaccessible to residents and students alike in the last few years, and it appears they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The University’s treatment of students reflects its values as an educational institution, and must work persistently to ensure that graduate students enjoy a decent standard of living.
In order to consistently provide for the needs of GSAS students, we recommend that GSAS index Ph.D. stipends to the cost of living in the greater Cambridge-Boston area, as the cost of living near Harvard will likely rise. Given that GSAS students often live in and face difficulties affording off-campus housing, concerns over the financial stability of graduate students will continue to surface unless actions like indexing are taken.
We appreciate Harvard’s commitment to providing an accessible education for all of its students, as the stipend program shows. But certain career paths necessitate graduate degrees, such as in academia or advanced research in certain fields, and the high financial costs of such degrees may dissuade or discourage many prospective talented undergraduate students from pursuing said careers. If these undergraduates do not see adequate systems of support, the chances they will pursue these careers would be lower.
Thus, in the spirit of ensuring its education is as accessible as possible, attracting and assisting the best minds across the country and the world, we call on Harvard to reaffirm its commitment to making graduate school affordable and accessible for as many students as it can — starting with this stipend.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.