University at Buffalo doctoral students seemingly got a victory last month when the university announced it would increase their minimum stipend to $20,000 a year.
But now, Ph.D. students are learning that the raise is coming at a cost.
The majority of UB College of Arts and Sciences doctoral programs will not offer stipends to new Ph.D. students next academic year, dramatically decreasing their number of incoming Ph.D. students.
David Johnson, associate dean for graduate education, told all but six of the college’s 30 doctoral programs to stop recruiting funded Ph.D. students in an email Thursday, saying it’s the only way to pay for the increased stipends for current Ph.D. students.
“We recognize that this will be disappointing to nearly everyone, but the reduction of the size of our funded student cohort is the only way to realize the benefits of the PhD Excellence Initiative,” Johnson said, referring to the university initiative to increase the stipends and overall quality of its Ph.D. programs.
UB spokesperson John DellaContrada told WBFO the 24 “paused” programs can still recruit “self-funded students” and offer the Schomburg Fellowship and Presidential Scholarship.
He added the pause in new Ph.D. stipends will last one year only.
“This is kind of a massive blow to the entire educational apparatus of the College of Arts and Sciences,” said Michael Montoro, student representative on the UB Council and a member of the Living Stipend Movement, a group of graduate students who have protested for better TA and research assistant stipends.
Montoro, a mathematics Ph.D. student, said Thursday’s announcement is exactly the outcome the Living Stipend Movement was afraid of when UB announced the new $20,000 stipend floor Aug. 23.
Montoro said UB is only providing bridge funding to doctoral programs for three years and at a declining rate — from 100% this year, to 50% funded next year, to only 25% funded the year after. He said he advocated for five years of full funding.
The lack of funding for the increased stipends essentially left the College of Arts and Sciences with an “unfunded mandate,” causing them to pause additional Ph.D. stipends, Montoro said.
“We were worried … the university would come along and say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to increase the stipend, but the College of Arts and Sciences is just going to have to figure it out for themselves,’” he added.
UB currently has about 1,400 Ph.D. students who receive stipends for working as teaching, graduate and research assistants. About 1,000 of them will see their stipend increased to $20,000 this fall.
DellaContrada didn’t immediately answer how many fewer new Ph.D. students UB expects to have next year.
UB officials said raising the Ph.D. stipend floor to $20,000 will raise the university’s average Ph.D. stipend from approximately $18,000 a year to $20,600 a year. The university estimates it’s invested a total of $39.5 million in Ph.D. stipends and tuition scholarships the 2017-18 academic year.
In addition to raising the stipend floor to $20,000, UB’s PhD Excellence Initiative will continue to recruit the best Ph.D. students to UB, enhance diversity and inclusion in Ph.D. programs, and enhance Ph.D. degree completion and time to degree, according to UB.
“The idea of changing our Ph.D. programs to make them better is a good idea. To do this method of stopping Ph.D. recruitment for a year is a bad idea,” Montoro said.