This spring will mark the 10th anniversary of the parental relief policy at the Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
The policy — the first of its kind in the Ivy League — provides Yale graduate students having or adopting children with funding, reduced academic responsibilities and more time to complete their degrees. In an email sent to the graduate school community last week, Dean of the GSAS Lynn Cooley wrote that the school has spent nearly $4 million on the policy to date and has seen overwhelming success in helping students raise children while they continue to pursue a degree.
“This extra support makes it possible for students to complete their Ph.D. degrees in a timely manner, and continue to pursue their academic and career goals,” Cooley told the News. “Knowing how successful the program has been in its first 10 years, we are committed to continuing it into the future.”
Since 2007, nearly 300 students — about 5 percent of the current graduate student body — have used the parental relief policy, according to Cooley. She added that 20 percent of these students applied for the policy twice to accommodate the arrival of a second child, and that total recipients spanned every sex, nationality, age and academic division in the graduate school.
Cooley said Yale’s institutional research shows that students who took advantage of the parental relief policy were even more likely to graduate than their non-parent peers, and often finished their degrees more quickly than their fellow students. Student parents, she added, also reported higher levels of satisfaction with Yale in recent surveys.
“I think it’s fair to say that community reaction to subsidizing health care for graduate student children and the ‘Parental Support and Relief Policy’ was instantly and overwhelmingly positive and has remained so, to my knowledge,” said former GSAS Dean Jon Butler, who helped implement the policy. “The programs provided immediate financial, personal and professional relief for graduate student families, substantially helped students complete their Ph.D. degrees, and also have been a distinct advantage in recruiting prospective graduate students with children to accept Yale admission offers.”
Butler, who assumed his post in 2004, said extended times to completion of Ph.D.s for students and spouses with babies, and the growing costs of insuring graduate student children, had long been identified as problems in the graduate school. He said that 18 months of discussion with the provost’s office and Yale Health resulted in significant health insurance subsidies for some graduate students’ children in the 2006–07 academic year, which later grew into an official parental relief policy the following year.
The policy survived the 2009–10 financial crisis because it was built into the University’s annual budget with the help of the provost’s office, the Yale Health Plan, the graduate school director of finance and several other administrative offices, Butler said.
“Frankly, helping develop and argue within the University for the creation of these programs was the single most exciting achievement of my time as dean because the benefits accrued so directly to terrific Ph.D. students who will be leading their fields for decades,” Butler said. “It was a pure privilege to help them realize their goals.”
Graduate students interviewed said the policy is easy to use and essential in enabling them to pursue their degrees while also raising their newborn children. Public health student Samantha Streicher GRD ’17 said she took off the fall 2013 semester when she gave birth to her first child and will be on parental leave again this spring for the birth of her second. She added that probably half a dozen other women in her program have taken advantage of the policy as well.
Streicher said that while Yale’s parental policy was not a main factor in her decision to enroll, she was aware of it when she arrived in 2011. She added that being able to receive a stipend and take months off to raise children is a privilege not afforded by many workplaces.
“I didn’t have to trade in any of my research time in order to take care of my child,” Streicher said. “I had four months off a few years ago, and will again, to really solidly take care of my newborn child and then be able to return to my research, whereas I’m sure at other places you have to trade in research time for time to take care of your newborn, and the program runs out because you’re using that money while taking care of your child. That’s why it’s so amazing that the grad school has this in place.”
Jonas Belina GRD ’16 said he originally learned about the parental relief policy at an information session organized by the McDougal Graduate Student Center when his wife was expecting their second child. He added that the graduate school has been very informative about the policy through a variety of channels.
Belina said being both a student and parent at Yale has been a great experience, especially because of the guidance and support he received from the graduate school and from his advisor.
“The parental relief was crucial to balance caring for the baby, academic work and applying for positions for the time after Yale,” Belina said. “The parental relief provided everything that we could wish for, including health care coverage for the family. The Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is a true pioneer in parental relief policy.”
Some students said the program could be improved through subsidizing child care costs even after parents return to school. Connor Williams GRD ’21 said the parental relief policy has been instrumental in allowing him to be the primary caregiver for his son while his wife works, and has been meaningful on personal, financial and academic levels.
He added that he worries about returning to his studies this spring and having to pay nearly $1,000 a month to send his son to daycare 25 hours a week — a price, he said, he and his wife are lucky to be able to afford, but which many other parents cannot.
Williams said the University estimates 12-month living costs for a single Ph.D. student to be $28,700 and pays students an annual stipend of just over $29,000, so finding quality child care would be a challenge if he were a single parent or the sole earner of his family. Without his wife’s income, he said his teaching next semester and his work as a full-time graduate student would not suffice to sustain his family.
“Put simply, it makes attaining a Yale graduate degree virtually impossible for otherwise qualified individuals with children who are not fortunate enough to have outside support or a working spouse,” Williams said. “Some kind of need-sensitive awards for childcare are crucial if Yale wants to fully commit to welcoming and supporting graduate parents in the future. While we are optimistic about Dean Cooley’s repeatedly avowed commitment, we hope to see a real program put forth in the coming year.”
Bryan Yoon GRD ’18, a new father and former member of the Graduate Student Assembly, said the GSA has begun work on a project that recommends need-based subsidies for low-income graduate school families. He added the parental relief policy could also be improved because as it stands, couples who attend Yale are only allowed to take one semester off between them for child rearing.
While Yoon said he does not know how many of these couples exist at Yale, he believes the policy should be “not one semester per parent, but one semester per child.”
Yoon added that as a student representative, he has appreciated reaping the parental relief benefits that GSA members before him helped put in place. He added that he is benefiting from the work of students who graduated 10 years ago, and hopes his work in student government will benefit future graduate students.
“Yes we do have some improvements we need to make,” Yoon said. “But all the good things we already have in place [with the parental relief policy] more than make up for the improvements that we need to make.”
Cooley has served in her role since 2014.