Yesterday at Slate, Rebecca Schuman reported on a project, begun by Karen Kelsky, to bring graduate student debt out of the shadows. What I like about this story and the project is it also is attempting to track debt by those who were funded.
Here are some intriguing excerpts from Schuman’s piece (bolds mine):
This is a refrain repeated throughout academia: If you must get a PhD, which you shouldn’t, make sure it’s fully funded. But, Kelsky says, even students with “full” funding packages still end up with “significant five- or six-figure debt by the end of a Ph.D. program.” She knows this, she says, “because so many of my clients have this level of debt.” …
[Kelsky] created a simple, public Google document, and yesterday, she asked her readers to share their experiences. In the first day alone, the document has sprung to life with over 700 takers—and while there are a healthy number of “$0” entries, most are far from that enviable figure. The user-generated formatting inconsistencies make it difficult to search the spreadsheet for averages, but in the first 250 entries, the most common answers looked to be in the $20,000 to $40,000 range. …
A shocking number of users also report $100,000 and up; some $200,000 and over, even with a funding package. “My graduate stipend did not cover my living expenses, books, money I needed for research,” explains one user. “TA salary and fee remission not enough to support my two children,” says another. Graduate students do not usually receive funding in the summer—but are often expected to complete intensive research or exam prep—so many users also cited summer living expenses. …
The point of this project …is…to prove that—as usual—proponents of the current academic status quo are full of it. Kelsky’s goals for the project are somewhat nobler: She wants would-be Ph.D.s to know that “full funding” is “only in select cases sufficient to cover real-life living expenses.” She also wants “faculty and administrators to be forced to confront the true financial costs” of even a funded doctorate, “and to recognize their role in a profoundly exploitative and unethical system.”
Here’s the spreadsheet mentioned above. I don’t know if this link will work, but there are 86 entries for history. Here are ten randomly selected comments from the “Why did you take the money out?” column:
1. “MA and PhD was “fully funded” but the cost of living in California exceeded stipend.”
2. “First gen college grad from working class family at a private UG, R1 insitution.”
3. “11 years of graduate school, with only five years of funding, & that was in $10-12K/year range when funded. Single; parents unable help to due to low income & long-term medical crisis. ”
4. “I was determined to be a full-time student and quit my ft job. I did adjunct my way through, which barely made a dent. Fellowship money was nowhere near adequate to living in NY. Then it took longer to get through the PhD than I hoped.”
5. “High cost of living city and low graduate stipend; fellowships for research not adequate in the cities where research was conducted. No conference funding available. Stipend didn’t cover emergency expenses (family funerals, car troubles, need for new computer, etc). No consistent summer funding available.”
6. “Returned to undergrad as adult & wanted to get through quickly. Grad school debt was for living expenses, stipend was never enough to pay fees & cost of living. had a child in grad school because I was in mid-30s and afraid to try to do it on tenure track.”
7. “As a single mother living in Southern California, my grad stipend only covered my fees and food. Rent, childcare, medical expenses, etc.”
8. “I put myself through both my ungraduate and graduate education without assistance from my family. Although I worked part-time during both my master’s and undergraduate education, I needed the financial assistance in order to pay for books and living expenses. I have not taken loans during my PhD program except to cover a summer language program that I was not able to secure funding for from my university.”
9. “For private undergrad, family made just enough money not to receive much aid, and work-study only paid so much. For grad school, I took out loans to cover cost of living in expensive city, health insurance, conference travel, research year abroad, and wanted a bit of money to just live on and do at least a few fun things. I am single so I paid all bills myself. First year, 9-month TA contract only paid 11k. Final year was 20k. Any additional aid–including money for required/necessary conference and research travel–dried up within two years thanks to economic downtown and state-school budget crises while tuition and fees kept increasing.”
10. “I had no other way to pay for undergrad. In grad school, I lived in a very expensive city and despite the stipend I received, it was not enough to cover food, housing, bills, etc. I also traveled for my research which required money. I also had to relocate while finishing my degree and though I receieved some small fellowships to cover the cost of tuition, I had no extra money for living expenses.”
Among all of these, I think #5 speaks to a number of elements in “the story”: urban col issues, underfunded stipend/TAships, conference funding, travel for research, emergency (i.e. life) issues, normal life changes (marriage/kids), etc. But then, more importantly, gender specific issues (e.g. #7) can really blow up the traditional funding model.
So, in relation to the S-USIH and larger USIH and IH crowds, how do these comments and the overall feel from the Schuman article relate to us? Are there special problems in relation to intellectual history that don’t fit the general model of graduate studies in history?
My preliminary thought is that intellectual history might be wash in terms of research costs, but that we might require longer periods in grad programs to ruminate and mature. Why? Because the issues we study are complex, our work requires extra reading in philosophy and theory, plus a greater intellectual maturity to grasp, or see, the deeper issues. I’m guessing that we are on the high end for average time from matriculation to graduation. If I’m right here, it makes our student population more susceptible to expenses occurred in the emergency and ‘natural life changes’ category. A lot of our programs are also in expensive areas of the country (DC, NYC, LA, Chicago, etc.). Intellectual history is sustained by larger departments which necessarily are at universities in more populated areas or cities with higher standards of living (e.g. Madison, WI).
Your thoughts? Again, how is our subfield either the same or different from the profession generally? – TL