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### UGA Urged to Provide Fair Compensation to Graduate Student Employees

Graduate student employees play a vital role in both educating students and supporting research activities across the campus. Without their contributions, classes would remain untaught, undergraduate assignments ungraded, and research programs at a standstill. Despite their significance, the University of Georgia has chosen not to provide graduate student workers with a living wage.

The challenging financial circumstances for graduate students have been further exacerbated by high inflation rates. Over the past few years, inflation has surged, with UGA’s stipend increments consistently lagging behind. Consequently, graduate workers have effectively experienced a reduction in their earnings.

At UGA, the stipends for the academic years 2023–2024 amount to \(18,892 and \)20,427 respectively. However, these figures fall short of covering the living expenses for a single adult in Athens. The living wage in Athens, estimated at \(35,048 annually or \)16.85 per hour by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, surpasses the base stipends by over $14,000. This inadequate compensation hinders the university’s ability to attract a diverse pool of talented graduate students—a disservice not only to the 30,000 undergraduate students but also to the faculty members who depend on them for instructional support.

Despite UGA’s claim that graduate students are compensated at a “full-time rate,” the reality is that they are paid significantly below the standard, considering the workload they undertake.

Graduate student financial challenges

For instance, consider Sam, a graduate teaching assistant pursuing their master’s degree at UGA. Due to restrictions, Sam cannot work more than 20 hours on campus. However, in addition to their teaching responsibilities, Sam dedicates extensive hours to course preparation, grading assignments, responding to emails, and conducting research. In total, Sam works well over 40 hours a week but is not fairly remunerated for their efforts.

Sam’s annual income of \(18,892 for teaching introductory courses barely covers their expenses after deductions for UGA’s premium subsidy and mandatory fees. This leaves Sam with a meager \)13,620 annually, equivalent to $1,135 monthly, for housing, food, transportation, and healthcare.

Monthly expenses include \(700 for a shared apartment, \)327 for food, and $71 for UGA parking, leaving minimal funds for other necessities such as gasoline, car maintenance, insurance, textbooks, healthcare, and unforeseen emergencies. The financial strain is evident.

Without financial support from family or a partner, Sam faces significant challenges in meeting these expenses, let alone affording visits to family during holidays. In 2024, while graduate students received a negligible increase below the 3.4% inflation rate, UGA President Jere Morehead received a substantial raise, further highlighting the disparity in compensation.

Although Sam is a fictional character, the financial struggles depicted are a harsh reality for many graduate students. The inadequate stipends, coupled with high fees, particularly impact Black and Latinx students, who are often the first in their families to pursue higher education. These financial barriers hinder diversity and inclusion efforts within graduate programs at UGA.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges

Despite UGA’s stated commitment to enhancing diversity in graduate programs, the statistics paint a different picture. In Fall 2022, only 28% of graduate students identified as minorities, with a mere 13% being Black, despite Black individuals constituting 33% of the state’s population.

UGA’s efforts to recruit and retain underrepresented students have fallen short, with limited progress in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives. Recent decisions to discontinue programs like CLAASS, aimed at supporting African American student success, reflect a regression in fostering inclusivity on campus.

Moreover, the University System of Georgia’s hiring practices have faced criticism, with concerns raised about the impact of low graduate worker wages on diversity efforts. Calls for living wages have been echoed by campus worker unions nationwide, emphasizing the interconnectedness of fair compensation and diversity initiatives.

To truly embody the principles of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, UGA must align its actions with its rhetoric. By increasing graduate worker compensation, President Morehead can demonstrate a genuine commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive academic community that benefits all students.

The University Council of the University of Georgia (UCWGA) has launched a petition urging UGA to raise graduate assistantship compensation to a minimum of $35,000 annually, implement cost of living adjustments, and transition to a biweekly pay cycle. Your support and advocacy are crucial in addressing these pressing issues. Join us in advocating for fair treatment and equitable compensation for graduate workers.