SIUE has seen an influx of graduate students entering the university, many of which have been dealing with multiple economic issues as a result of high inflation and low salaries.
Charles Hubbs, a grad student in his second year, is facing some of these economic problems.
“Covering [tuition] is great, but I can’t eat tuition coverage,” Hubbs said. “That doesn’t put food in my stomach.”
Hubbs works as a teaching assistant at SIUE and as a physical trainer on and off campus. The TA job pays for tuition as well as a stipend. His stipend, which totals approximately to $400 a month, is usually spent on student fees.
“This is my first time working for SIUE,” Hubbs said. “During my first graduate program, I worked full-time at the St. Louis Art Museum, where wages were also low. When I did my undergrad program here, I worked multiple part-time jobs — kind of like what I’m doing now — to try and afford some basic things.
McKenzie Johnston, an English literature graduate student at SIUE, is also facing similar issues.
“I only get paid about $860 a month, which is take-home pay,” Johnston said. “The tuition waiver covers everything except fees, but the fees are $1,000 per semester… Right now, I’m teaching one class. Typically, the load is two classes.”
Johnston is a teaching assistant at SIUE and is also employed as an adjunct professor at a community college in Missouri. She previously worked as a teaching assistant at SIU Carbondale, where the salary is double what it is at SIUE.
“$860 minus $250 per month [due to fees] means I’m getting paid about $600 a month,” Johnston said. “For perspective, at a rural community college in Missouri I get paid about $1,000 take-home pay for teaching two classes; the classes are also smaller. Here I’m teaching 23 students, taking classes of my own and having to pay my fees.”
Johnston said the fees that she must pay would be acceptable if the grad students could adequately use some of the services they pay for, but they often don’t have time in their schedule. One such service would be the gym.
“Going to the gym? I would challenge you to find more than a handful [of grad students] that have the time to go to the gym,” Johnston said. “Graduate students are often professionals. Most of their time is spent doing research and not using the gym.”
The fees are also used to rent out textbooks, though Johnston states that many students in the English department would much rather purchase their textbooks.
“We want to own our textbooks and would happily use the rent fees to buy the textbooks instead of renting them. We want to keep those books and use them in the future, but there isn’t an option for that,” Johnston said.
There are also fears that getting a degree may not provide financial security after graduation, which makes grad students' financial situation even more unstable. Hubbs has experienced these fears himself.
“I’ve been there and done that,” Hubbs said. “[A degree] doesn’t always get a job that pays well… I’ve moved fields, maybe that will make a difference, but I’m still skeptical. Really anything that isn’t STEM is a coin toss.”
The location of SIUE’s campus creates difficulty as well, which Johnston attributes to many grad students living off-campus.
“For graduate students, Edwardsville is in the middle of nowhere,” Johnston said. “Not very many graduate students, in comparison to undergrads, are going to live on-campus. We have families and other jobs… having to drive out there adds on [to expenses] to what little money we do make.”
Johnston’s personal hardship is also made more difficult by her 5-month-old baby that she must care for, which has increased her spending on formula and rent for a bigger apartment.
“Finances are so intricately tied together that it’s hard to say that it’s because of SIUE,” Johnston said. “However, I could say that if I were paid at SIUE what I make at any other community college as an adjunct and didn’t have to pay fees, then I wouldn’t be having the difficulty that I’m having.”
All of these expenses make it hard to save up cash. Hubbs said that it would be nice to have the opportunity to save up money for life after college rather than spending much of it on fees
“There’s definitely a transition period from ending school to entering the workforce,” Hubbs said. “Bills never stop and you never stop getting hungry. There’s no guarantees once you get out there."
These difficulties are being met amidst a record growth in grad students enrolled at SIUE. James Monahan, director of graduate and international admissions at SIUE, gave further details on how many new grad students there are.
“This is about our fourth straight year of increase in graduate enrollment,” Monahan said. “It has brought the total number of graduate students at the university to its highest level since 1977. It’s been some strong growth.”
The reason for this growth has not been by chance, Monahan stated, rather caused by a series of developments that have made the school more attractive for prospective students.
“The academic departments have really been focusing on meeting student’s needs and providing them with flexible schedules, online courses and the ability to complete the graduate program on your time; we’ve done a better job on that,” Monahan said. “A lot of our graduate students are working, so they need classes that meet in the evenings or on the weekends.”
Monahan also said that graduate programs have grown across the country due to the pandemic, mainly because people had the time to decide on pursuing a higher-level degree. He also acknowledged the harsh economic difficulties faced by some graduate students.
“We know it’s a struggle,” Monahan said. “There are quite a few graduate assistantships [at SIUE], but they’re competitive and not all can get it. I certainly recognize the challenges you face in getting a graduate degree, but you hope that once you’ve completed it and get out, you’re going to see that higher salary and job security. I acknowledge that it’s difficult sometimes.”
Monahan also described that SIUE has experienced significant growth in international students, with a large percentage of them being grad students.
“We’ve seen an explosive growth in international students, particularly in the STEM fields,” Monahan said. “We’ve seen big growth in computer science, business and engineering... About two-thirds of our international students are graduate students.”
SIUE had a 177 percent increase in international students compared to last year. There are approximately 891 new international students at SIUE this semester. Of those, 652 are grad students, and a considerable portion of these students work on-campus.
“International students can only work on-campus,” Monahan said. “That’s a part of immigration regulations. If those students are employed, they’re only going to be employed at the university.”
The growth at SIUE has contributed to its growing reputation as a university and may continue into the near future given recent trends.
“It’s nice to see the numbers grow,” Monahan said. “I think it helps the university’s reputation overall when you have strong graduate programs and a lot of research that provides opportunities for our undergrad and graduate students."
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