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The student council of Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences raised a proposal to increase the Graduate Student Body Fee — which is among the lowest in the Ivy League — at a Wednesday night meeting.
The fee, which funds student organizations, conference attendance, summer research, and the Student Council, was originally introduced as a $10 charge to students in 1989 and now costs $25 per year. In 2015, the GSC abolished the option to waive the fee due to budget constraints and to follow in the footsteps of peer institutions.
Sarah Y. Hoback, the Chair of Research on the GSAS Student Council, called for an increased fee to fund more professional development and advocacy programs within GSAS.
“Something like 40 percent of our funds goes towards student groups, and then about 25 percent goes towards professional development, and the remainder goes to different events,” she said.
According to Hoback, raising the GSC student fee would make professional development events for graduate students more accessible. Currently, most GSAS students are dependent on departmental stipends to attend academic conferences, which have competitive application cycles.
“We have something like a 15 to 25 percent acceptance rate, depending on which semester we’re operating in,” Hoback said. “That’s not great, right?”
According to Hoback, travel and lodging fees for academic conferences across the country or abroad regularly costs hundreds of dollars.
Aden Solway, vice president of the GSC, said stipends often don’t cover all expenses associated with academic travel.
“The conference grants were $750 per person,” he said. “That's not really enough unless you're going very close by. If you're going to the West Coast or you're going to Europe, $750 is not enough for flights and hotels.”
Hoback added that, in addition to covering travel expenses, an increased fee could pay for free professional headshots and CV writing seminars for students.
“Things that students care about — we just don’t offer them,” she said.
Hoback also advocated for using increased student fees to fund advocacy projects, such as improving the HUHS portal and funding a Harvard shuttle that brings students further from campus than Alewife.
“Housing is really expensive. And one way to combat housing costs is to allow people to live further out,” Hoback explained.
If the proposal is approved, the fee would be increased to either $35 or $75, closer in line with what is charged at peer institutions. Among IvyPlus colleges, which includes the eight Ivy League universities, Stanford, MIT, and UChicago, Harvard’s graduate student fee is the lowest.
Hoback pointed to MIT’s $406 graduate student fee as an example GSAS should work to replicate.
“They also serve undergrads and they have a much larger role in the student body, so it’s not just some similar one to one mapping,” she said.
Following Wednesday’s meeting, the GSC is set to vote on the proposal at their next open meeting in March.
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