Eliminating Fees for Graduate Student Employees

State higher education institutions cannot close their funding gaps on the backs of graduate student workers, who are already struggling to pay for basic needs!

The Problem

  • CWA-GSEU (Graduate Student Employees Union) represents all Teaching and Graduate Assistants enrolled in SUNY, the largest state university system in the nation. SUNY employs approximately 4,500 graduate students and CUNY employs approximately 2,000 graduate students as teaching and research assistants who teach courses, grade exams and papers, and conduct laboratory research. During COVID-19, many graduate workers were forced to continue teaching in person. Others were allowed to teach remotely, which presented its own challenges.

  • While tuition is waived, graduate student employees are still forced to pay onerous fees. These fees amount to 15-20% of their salaries. This remained true throughout the pandemic.

  • In recent years, the cost of these fees has risen steadily at public colleges and universities in the U.S. The increase in fees represents a financial response to the problem of inadequate state funding for public higher education. Fees often function as backdoor tuition for public universities to circumvent stateimposed tuition caps and sustain their operating costs.

  • In many cases, these fees fund systems and services that graduate workers rely on in their capacity as employees, such as the software programs used to collect and assess student assignments and submit grades. This constitutes a “pay-to-work” system in which employees are being charged for the maintenance and upkeep of the workplace, rather than the employer bearing full responsibility for such operating costs, as is the norm in most workplaces.

  • Every year, graduate employees take out loans, skip meals, and even sell blood plasma just to pay their fees.

The Solution: Allocate $10 million to waive fees for 6,350 SUNY and CUNY graduate student workers in the FY2022 budget.

Proposed budget language: “All current and future mandatory university fees, with the exclusion of the graduate student association student activity fee, shall not be charged to a SUNY graduate student serving a minimum half time appointment as a graduate teaching assistant, graduate assistant, graduate research assistant, graduate research associate, or graduate teaching associate, or to a CUNY graduate student serving as a Graduate Assistant, Adjunct Instructor, Adjunct Lecturer, Adjunct College Laboratory Technician or a Non-teaching Adjunct.”

Status

We are advocating for this item to be included in the FY 2022 budget. It is also a standalone bill filed by Senator Stavisky, though does not have a bill number yet. Last year, this bill passed the Senate Higher Education Committee and had nearly 60 sponsors in the Assembly and approximately 30 in the Senate.

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Materials

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