New report highlights gross inequities in health coverage for grad students

Historians in the News
tags: education, universities, academia, graduate students

Graduate students are overworked, underpaid, put under enormous stresses, and too frequently denied support for various types of disability. Mental health among this population is a particular concern, as I covered at Pacific Standard earlier this year. Graduate students in all fields report much higher degrees of severe mental-health needs than the general population. Fixing this problem will require not just challenging academic ableism, but also fixing the basic conditions under which graduate students work and learn. We need to talk about labor, pay, health care, and food and housing security.

A working group of faculty and graduate students in the Graduate Organization of the Writing Program Administrators recently published a report on the labor conditions for graduate students who teach writing at colleges and universities in the United States. The results show widespread shortfalls in pay and benefits, as graduate work requirements commonly require students to do more work than they are paid for. As one participant in the survey puts it: "These assistantship programs are designed for healthy, young, single students. They are not appropriate for students with non-normative households, health issues, or a lack of familial support."

The working group surveyed 344 graduate student instructors from 37 universities. Instructors are typically contracted to work just 20 hours a week, because these are half-time positions intended to support students as they pursue their own studies.

Yet a full 62 percent of respondents reported working more than 20 hours a week on a regular basis. Thirty-six percent reported that their health insurance was inadequate, with almost half of that number reporting that their university offered no support in purchasing health insurance. Only 8.5 percent of all instructors report being offered the same health care as faculty and staff, while the rest were instead put on more limited student plans, which are often not sufficient to meet the needs of an older population (let alone students who are supporting families).

Read entire article at Pacific Standard

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