Graduate council unanimously approves affordability bill

Oct. 5, 2022, 9:43 p.m.

The Graduate Student Council (GSC) unanimously voted Tuesday to approve the “Bill on Affordability,” which seeks to bring attention to financial hardships councilors said graduate students face.

The bill includes a list of seven action items for the University that addressed topics ranging from income and housing to transportation and retirement plans. Councilors said they hope the bill will help administrators see the difficulties faced by graduate students after years of advocacy. 

“Stanford’s affordability crisis threatens its research and academic edge,” the bill read. “While Stanford’s endowment continues to balloon… its graduate students are left behind.”

The Daily has reached out to the University for comment.

Council co-chair Emily Schell, a fifth-year developmental and psychological sciences Ph.D. student, said the bill was motivated by the results of an August survey of graduate students. 

The survey received 250 responses in one day, and Schell said the response demonstrated that covering basic finances is a “serious pain point” for many graduate students.

Affordability issues for graduate students have long been a subject of concern. Councilor Guillem Megias Homar, a first-year aeronautics and astronautics engineering Ph.D. student and one of the main authors of the bill, called the work an an analysis of student’s financial wellbeing over the last decade.

Council co-chair Jason Anderson, a fourth-year aeronautics and astronautics Ph.D. student, added, “This is not a hit piece”: “We want to just paint an accurate picture of the current situation in the hopes to start the conversation again on affordability,” he said.

A focus of the bill is the challenge presented by what the authors described as stagnating student incomes, which have fallen into the “very-Low-Income” category over the last decade, and rising Bay Area housing prices. The document reports that, on average, graduate students currently spend 45% of their income on rent.

According to Councilor Lawrence Berg, a fourth-year chemistry Ph.D. student, Stanford’s housing cost model isn’t based on rent but rather what the University approximates graduate students spend on items including groceries, books and healthcare.

“Stanford has the power to essentially just unilaterally decide that rent is going to be lower if they wanted to,” Berg said. “It’s not a, ‘We need to charge this amount of money in order to break even,’ and the housing office is relatively opaque about where the money goes.”

Berg and Anderson both criticized the University’s push toward increasing student enrollment, which Berg said could lead to “false competition for housing spots” and discourage the University from lowering rates.

Councilors said issues brought up by the bill affect more people than graduate students. They said that the high price of Cardinal Care, described by Anderson as the “most expensive healthcare plan in the world,” is detrimental to all Stanford students, graduate or undergraduate. 

Currently, the University charges students on Cardinal Care a mandatory $964 Vaden Health Fee for primary care and a $7,000 annual premium.

The affordability bill reported that 49% of graduate students have at least one additional job, a figure emphasized by Councilor Kristen Jackson, a second-year education Ph.D. student who voted for the bill with a “resounding and emphatic yes.” 

According to Jackson, juggling multiple jobs can impact graduate students’ ability to research and teach, hurting both graduate and undergraduate students.

Nate Stockham ’12 M.S. ’15, a fifth-year neuroscience Ph.D. student, said that in the 15 years he has been at Stanford, he has observed a “consistent adversarial pattern” at the University in terms of providing data on students’ well-being. 

He said he hopes this bill will create more transparency. With the limited disposable income for graduate students and the time they dedicate toward working other jobs, “Stanford’s shooting themselves in the foot,” Stockham said.

A previous version of this article misquoted Guillem Megias Homar and incorrectly stated that Nate Stockham was a councilor. The Daily regrets this error.  

Caroline Chen '26 is a staff writer for the University Desk. Contact news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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