Coming on the heels of a major initiative at Harvard University, Yale’s decision this week to increase graduate student stipends has focused attention on the differences between the two universities’ funding methods. While Yale will continue to provide standard stipends for all humanities and social sciences graduate students, Harvard will use a competitive system to grant certain funds to graduate and professional school students.
In raising standard stipends to $16,000 next year, Graduate School Dean Peter Salovey continued a recent tradition of providing standard, complete stipends for all humanities and social science graduate students. As in past years, the University has said the increase — from the current $15,000 — has a dual purpose: remaining competitive with peer institutions and increasing support for graduate students.
Meanwhile, Harvard’s initiative reflects a different approach to graduate and professional student funding. The plan, which Harvard President Larry Summers announced two weeks ago, includes three programs aimed at encouraging students to pursue careers in public service.
Yale Graduate Student Assembly President Tyler Radniecki GRD ’05 said he thought Yale’s system of treating all the students roughly equally worked better because it did not create tension within departments, as opposed to the Harvard “super-star” model.
“They say that they base it on merit, but everyone was good enough to get into the program,” Radniecki said.
The $14 million in Presidential Scholars Grants offer support to Harvard students pursuing careers in public service. Grants are available to students in eight of Harvard’s schools, including its Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Summers also announced the Harvard Educational Loan Program, or HELP, which extends universal access to loan funding for graduate and professional students. HELP is a partnership with Citibank’s subsidiary, the Student Loan Corporation.
Harvard graduate student Adam Fagen said he thought encouraging public service was a good idea. But, he said, the Presidential Scholars Grants were aimed at professional schools that do not offer students as much financial aid or as many teaching opportunities.
“There will be people who go into public service field who don’t get [Presidential Scholar Grants] who are still in the same boat,” Fagen said. “I’m sort of hopeful that there will be future announcements on a more universal level — It’s great because it’s new financial aid money but it doesn’t really strike me as a coordinated, university-wide effort.”
Salovey has said Yale’s stipend increase was not a direct response to Harvard’s initiative. But he said Yale always strives to remain competitive with peer institutions.
Princeton Graduate School Dean William Russel said the average stipend there for students in the humanities and social sciences was $15,000 last year. There are Princeton students who receive more than that amount because Princeton competes with other universities’ graduate programs, he said.
All competing schools try to keep their stipend levels near each other, Russel said.
“We’re certainly concerned in certain departments, where we compete most directly, with staying competitive,” Russel said.
Yale Graduate School Director of Finance and Administration Alice Oliver said all financial aid is merit-based, but that in about 20 cases per year, Yale offers special grants to students in the humanities or social sciences.
Oliver said she thinks it is important for students to select schools on factors other than money.
“I like to think that our students are coming here for academic reasons,” Oliver said.
Yale Graduate Student Assembly Vice President Sven Ude GRD ’06 said that it improves the quality of graduate student life and learning when students do not have to worry about money.
“Getting more money is always good and everybody gets the same amount, which is very good,” Ude said.
Anita Seth GRD ’05, co-chairwoman of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization said that GESO’s demands for support are being recognized. But Seth said the group seeks unionization for more reasons than money.