In the most significant stipend policy change in recent years, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday that base student stipends in the humanities and social sciences will increase 20 percent and be extended over the entire year rather than just nine months.

Starting next year, humanities and social science doctoral students will receive a $25,000 stipend per year for five years, to be distributed over a 12-month period. Currently, graduate students not in the natural sciences receive $20,000 over a nine-month period and are eligible for three summer stipends of $3700 during their time at Yale. With the changes, separate summer stipends will be eliminated, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said.

The changes also provide doctoral candidates in the sciences — who already receive 12-month stipends — with an approximately 3.5 percent increase in their annual funding, which varies from department to department and ranges from $27,000 to $29,000, Butler said.

“We’re very pleased to be able to provide 12-month funding for all Ph.D. students, when we haven’t been able to do that before,” Butler said. “We think this will mean a great deal to all of our students.”

Butler said the changes bring the humanities and social science students’ funding up to par with that of Yale’s natural science students.

“We would like humanities and social science students to have the same 12-month support that science students have,” Butler said. “We want to be competitive in admissions. We want to make Yale even more competitive than it already is.”

Butler said he was not yet sure how exactly the stipend increases would be funded, because the Graduate School is funded by a number of sources, including grants and the University endowment.

For each of the past four years, graduate student stipends were increased in $1000 increments, but for nine-month periods only.

Graduate Student Assembly President Bobbi Sutherland GRD ’09 said yesterday’s announcement is the result of a several-years-long effort by the GSA to extend stipend coverage to include summer work for non-science students, who often find it difficult to conduct research and support themselves without University funding.

“The importance of summer funding is that most of us in the humanities are not going to get a job in the summer,” Sutherland said. “Some people would get loans or borrow money from their parents. Occasionally people would have to go get jobs, which means we can’t continue to work on our dissertations.”

GSA spokesman Nicholas Goodbody GRD ’10 added, “A year-round stipend is like a year-round salary, and that means you can do your work year-round. That means you don’t have to look for teaching jobs or table-waiting jobs in the summer. It helps you keep your momentum.”

Both Butler and Goodbody said the changes were partly made to keep Yale competitive among its peers. Harvard University updated its graduate stipends in December to subsidize four summers of study and increased its nine-month stipend from $19,700 to just over $20,000. And as of 2008, Princeton students can also receive a maximum year-round stipend of $25,000, based on merit and financial need.

Butler said the absence of federal funding for humanities and social-science research comparable to that provided for scientific research is what led to the historic lack of summer funding at Yale.

“There is no equivalent in the humanities or the social sciences of the National Institutes of Health,” Butler said. “The U.S. federal government does not fund humanities.”

The National Institutes of Health, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, invests approximately $28 billion each year in medical research, distributed among 3,000 universities, medical schools and research institutions. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Humanities’ funding will total $144.4 million.

Students said they recognize that the Graduate School is ahead of its peers when it comes to student funding.

Ecology and evolutionary biology student Cynthia Chang GRD ’11 said she finds her current stipend “adequate” but welcomes an increase.

“I think the support here at Yale, especially compared to other schools, is definitely comfortable,” Chang said. “It does keep up in general.”

Added Sutherland, “We’re not behind. That’s for sure.”

Under the new policy, health insurance funding will also be expanded to pay for full health insurance of the spouse and children of doctoral students with families. Currently, only students and children of students are eligible for full health insurance funding from the University. Insurance funding for students with a spouse and no children, however, will continue to cover the student’s full cost and half of the spouse’s insurance cost.