News | Academics

New $4.6 million plan will support new grad center, summer research

A new funding package for graduate students announced earlier this semester would make Columbia’s aid to doctoral candidates competitive with peer institutions for the first time, according to Carlos Alonso, the acting dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science.

The $4.6 million plan will increase stipends and summer research funds for GSAS doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences, as well as fund a graduate student center. Alonso said the student center would probably be located in a renovated 301 Philosophy Hall, which is currently a grad student lounge.

Alonso noted that schools like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton “have traditionally been offering better funding than we have, but with this enhancement package ... we’re already making offers for next year that are at the same level.”

“This has allowed us to equal the financial aid packages from our richest, better-endowed competitors for the first time,” he said.

The package would increase the basic yearly stipend paid to doctoral students for living expenses by $350—from $23,000 to $23,350. It would also guarantee an additional $3,000 of summer research support for five years, instead of the two years that are currently promised, and phase out the $704 university facilities fee for doctoral students over the next two years. Princeton and Yale both currently offer base 12-month stipends of $26,000.

Gania Barlow, a fourth-year English doctoral student, said she had been told that summer work obligations might hamper the progress of her degree and said is relieved Columbia will begin offering more financial support.

“I remember when I was applying [to graduate school] my advisors said... summer funding makes a big difference,” Barlow said.

The stipend and summer support would apply only to students seeking doctorates in the humanities and social sciences. Natural science students typically receive more financial support.

Emily Cersonsky, a fourth-year doctoral student in the English department, said she welcomes the new funding enhancements. She pointed out that while Columbia’s funding was higher than that at many institutions, there was also the need to compensate for the higher cost of living in New York City.

The new package does not address funding for master’s degree students. Students in free-standing master’s programs generally do not receive stipends, and financial aid toward tuition and other expenses is usually very limited.

Alonso said that, while financial support for master’s students has traditionally been slim at most institutions, increasing aid was a priority, “because increasingly our competitors are in fact offering financial aid … and we’re very aware of that.”

Cersonsky said that while more funding would likely help some master’s students, many might also be looking forward to “a slightly more lucrative job than academia.” Barlow, however, said she sees greater funding as an opportunity to attract top master’s students.

Although a final decision has yet to be made, administrators are currently turning their attention to 301 Philosophy Hall as the site for a new graduate student center.

According to Alonso, the space is currently managed by GSAS, but converting it into a center would require extensive renovations and finding another temporary location for the other activities GSAS currently hosts in the lounge.

Several graduate students welcomed the planned addition of a dedicated space for graduate students. Kristy Riggs, a doctoral student in historical musicology and vice president of the Graduate Student Advisory Council, which has consulted with the administration on the new package, wrote in an email that 301 Philosophy was “an excellent, central location for graduate students.” She said that preliminary plans for the center included a two-story space with a lounge, kitchen, computer lab, and smaller meeting rooms, as well as expanded hours.

However, Maria Bo, a first-year doctoral student in comparative literature, said she is skeptical about a new center’s ability to foster community in GSAS.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of space, it’s the mentality of the place,” Bo said, explaining that she hasn’t found Columbia’s doctoral students rarely take time to mix and mingle.

Sammy Roth contributed reporting.

henry.willson@columbiaspectator.com

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