Housing, in particular, can strangle students’ finances. The high cost of living near the University of California, Santa Cruz, drove graduate students at this institution to strike in December 2019. They demanded a $1,412 per month raise, an increase they calculated would allow students to spend less than 30% of their pretax income on rent, the proportion recommended by financial experts.On July 1 of this year, Connor Brandenburg, an organic chemistry student at UC San Diego, got a raise that brought his finances nearly in line with this rule. After his department increased students’ stipends from $31,000 to $34,000 per year, his rent—$897 a month for a studio in university-run housing—accounted for about 32% of his pretax income.But, within a year and a half, this share may grow substantially. In April 2023, he will have exhausted the 2 years of on-campus housing the university allotted him as a graduate student. Off-campus rents for a comparable studio can run up to $1,700, Brandenburg says, so he’s planning to downgrade.“I’m 24. I don’t necessarily want to share a room with someone anymore, [but] financially, that may be my only option,” he says.
There are aspects of short-term pain/long-term gain for graduate school, but it seems more than a bit cruel for this to extend to penury in the form of immediate housing costs. Establishing some kind of reasonable ratio for student stipends to rent should be a goal for departments - of course, that's easier said than done.