Does UCSB pay grads enough?

We asked UC Santa Barbara graduate students a question:

“Do you think that UCSB pays its graduate students enough to live in the Santa Barbara area?”

Here’s what they said.

“Not at all. UCSB does not pay anyone except tenure-track and high-rank admins enough–lecturers struggle, librarians struggle, staff members struggle, custodian workers and other workers struggle, undergrads and grad students struggle, it’s an all-around issue that UCSB and the UC system at large do not seem to care about.”

“No. My first year at UCSB, I was not informed our first TA paycheck would not process until November. I moved to a shared house in Goleta, where I needed to pay rent ($900) and deposit ($1,000) starting in July. On top of expenses for moving to California, the student fees for that quarter (approximately $300), and all the other expenses associated with starting my PhD, I had to take out an $8,000 loan just to get by. I sought out free food events on campus and the UCSB food bank just to feed myself. Resulting in my first two years living mostly on cookies, pizza, and granola bars. One year I also had to have nonelective surgery that required me to be bedridden for a month. Fortunately I was on fellowship at the time. But had I needed longer than one month, I would lose my fellowship for that quarter. I am lucky my advisor accepted me for all student credits as ‘research hours.’ A luxury not all advisors extend to their students in need to be absent during the academic year. I was informed I would lose my covered student health insurance (meaning I could pay the premium out of pocket), if I did not maintain full-time status. Even with insurance, my out-of-pocket expenses were in the range of $8,000 (the max out-of-pocket plus all the copayments, medicine, etc.). That total does not even include the three years prior of physical therapy, chiropractic, and massage expenses I racked up. The initial injury occurred while doing fieldwork for my PhD. Since it was not an incident where I was evacuated or accrued damages all at that single moment, there are no external aids to help with the financial burden. If the surgery had been more involved, or I had complications, I may even have lost my fellowship for that entire quarter and health insurance. Presently I live in a van in the driveway of a house in Goleta. The incredibly reduced rent of that living situation is the only reason I am able to maintain any semblance of balance for income to expenses. Even with that, and having had three years of fellowship (paying above the normal income of a TAship salary), I still have accrued loans since coming to UCSB. Every student’s needs are different, but I want to stress that even being at the higher end of UCSB grad student income, I struggle to pay bills, let alone have spare income for food, supplies, and leisure.”

“I do not believe so. I considered dropping out of graduate school at the beginning of this school year because I couldn’t find affordable housing appropriate for a graduate student (i.e. not sharing a triple bedroom in Isla Vista with undergraduates).”

“No. Not only does it not pay its graduate students enough to live in the Santa Barbara area, but it also expects them to work more hours than they are expressly contracted for an limits their ability to take on other work opportunities that might make it more financially feasible in the name of ‘having time for our studies.’ If the University of California genuinely cared about graduate student employees have time to focus on their studies, they would ensure that they were funded through both their home department and their employment to a sufficient degree that they (a) do not have to work more than twenty hours a week and (b) do not spend far too many waking hours thinking about money and all the ways the lack thereof negatively impacts their day.”

“No, of course not. I have to take grad loans to survive here. I can pay my rent and utilities with my stipend and buy about half of my groceries, the rest is loan money. I had to work all summer, thankfully had two jobs, but paid my rent late because the money from on campus jobs didn’t add up fast enough and was paid thirty days after starting one of the jobs. Felt bad, but I had to eat, and the rental office let me slide. What else could I do? I had no money to go on research trips, couldn’t do as much reading as I wanted over the summer because I was working just to pay rent and eat. Don’t know how I am going to afford to travel for my research that I really need to do this summer either, as I am in the same boat, trying to find two jobs that will help me pay the university the rent I will owe.”

“No. My first year here, I didn’t have enough to afford eating more than one meal a day while sharing a two-bedroom apartment with two other people. I was using credit cards to afford basic needs and pay for TA fees. I then was further penalized for returning to my home state to work over the summer. I was disqualified from resident tuition and had to take out loans to cover supplemental tuition. Even in family housing, any job instability for my partner now has caused me to stretch my limited funds for the both of us. I’ve worked every summer either serving or driving for Lyft to make ends meet despite having summer employment through UCSB. It’s the only way I’ve gotten ahead of the cost of living here.”

“No. I cannot afford a car, so I have to turn down professional and academic opportunities in Los Angeles or San Francisco. I have refused medical treatment because I cannot afford the deductible in the UCSB health insurance. I can only visit my family in South America once per year over the summer. I only have emergency funds set aside because my family gave me that money. I usually have to recur to those funds by the end of each month.”

“No. In addition, graduate students are often expected to attend conferences and other research- or career-related events. These are a major component of the random expenses that really affect me every month. In addition, I have a chronic medical condition that needs treatment that isn’t covered under my health insurance plan. Also, the food I need to stay healthy because of this health condition is expensive. I can’t save any money in this situation.”

“No I do not. I barely have enough money to cover my monthly expenses, even with loans. I am accruing credit card debt each month just to cover basic necessities. My credit card bill is currently in the thousands. I honestly don’t know how I will make things work over summer. I currently have no guaranteed funding, along with four other lab mates and my advisor is unconcerned.”

“No, not at all. For my entire time here, I have been rent burdened at about 50 percent of take home pay per month, and that has been the case for most of my grad student colleagues. Not having funding through the entire calendar year (especially August and September) has been a major financial stressor in my life. I have also put off medical care, such as fillings, a root canal, and went into debt because of an appendectomy at Cottage Hospital ($3,000 bill for an overnight stay). It is extremely hard to pay car payment, gas, insurance, rent, utilities, groceries and still come up even each month and I know it is more difficult for graduate students with families.”

“No, they most certainly do not. I almost didn’t come here because of the cost of living. I sort of wish I hadn’t, because the last five years I have not been able to afford to do anything leisurely or non-school related. I have foregone medical treatments because I can’t afford them and am actively afraid to go to the doctor or dentist because I don’t know where the money will come from. I wear outdated prescription glasses from six years ago. I haven’t been able to buy new clothes that fit better for a long time. This entire grad school business has adversely impacted my mental and emotional health. Santa Barbara is beautiful, but it is also hell if you have no money to do anything or go anywhere. This lack of funding creates a mentality in your that is debilitating.”

“Absolutely not. I am an atypical grad student in that I have no dependents, no car, and—due to my upper middle class background—no student debt, and access to other funds if necessary. Even so, I have had some pretty awful experiences finding stable housing: living in three separate places one year, and four separate places another.”

“Absolutely not. Along with low wages, our employment is also precarious because while my department guarantees five-year funding, the TAship employment detracts from being able to complete program deadlines in time (TAs in my department have now reached one hundred undergrads per TA). Most students in my department go beyond five years of funding and employment for each quarter beyond is unknown. We are always on our toes, and we do not know where our next quarter’s pay will come from after five years.”

“No, it doesn’t. Even those of us who make more money than others don’t make enough to really save for cases of emergency. I make more than my partner (also a PhD student at UCSB) and we often have to pool our money to get her appropriate medical care, or to even just be able to buy clothes. We have no familial support, and are often worried about possibilities of not being able to afford health care issues that pop up. I had to have a root canal last year and was under a lot of stress about affording it, but I at least I was able to, unlike many folks! We are barely scraping by, and we are better off than a lot of folks.”

“No. The national average for graduate student income is about $32,000. I made $34,000 last year, but the Cost of Living Index places Santa Barbara at 224, whereas the average nationwide is 100. Therefore, I get paid less than half, in terms of purchasing power, that of my colleagues across the nation. I am living paycheck to paycheck and accruing debt due to a sick pet.”

“No. I moved to the US from abroad and in my first two years here I have experienced homelessness, skipped meals to get to the end of the month, and had to decide between presenting my research to a conference or seeing my family. The fact that UC pays so little money has created problems with obtaining a visa (as we are below the level that the federal government considers appropriate to sustain yourself). I don’t travel anywhere unless it is strictly required and I cannot count the amount of times my card was rejected due to insufficient funds. We do not get paid enough and this is impacting our research and mental health.”

“No, absolutely not. I’m in a privileged position as a graduate student because I have a wage-earning partner, and live in West Campus, so our rent is subsidized. However, even in this situation of relative stability, I regularly end each month with several hundred dollars on my credit card because my paycheck can’t stretch to cover my half of all of our monthly expenses. We regularly pick up food at the student food bank at Sierra Madre, and decide not to participate in social events because we don’t have the money to do so. I’m constantly stressed about the fact that I have no savings, so if I were to have a medical emergency, if our dog were to need immediate vet attention, or if our car broke down (among many costly emergency situations), I would have no way to pay for these things besides either (a) taking on debt, or (b) relying on my partner to cover me, regardless of their financial ability to do so. Furthermore, this financial dependence, despite working so many hours, has placed undue strain our relationship. Furthermore, despite being paid insufficiently, I regularly work sixty-five-hour weeks, attempting to complete all my tasks as a GSR, TA, and completing my own research. Being exhausted and underpaid means morale is low and frustration at being undervalued by my employer is a normal feeling. I bring this up because I indicated above that I work thirty hours for the university a week, I noted this because I work about twenty-two hours as a TA, and then another eight to ten as a GSR, though this does not account for any of my own research, the service work I do for the department or campus (such as organizing reading groups, going to conferences, etc.). Which is also all work, just work that is unacknowledged by pay, though is critical to the functioning of my department. Finally, I want to say that the underpayment is actually increasing my time to completion for the program and will likely mean it takes me six to seven years to finish. If I were paid more, and could focus on my research without having to take on extra GSR responsibilities on top of TAing, I would be able to complete the program more swiftly.”

“No. I survive financially by living in a van. I have been enrolled in the Safe Parking Program of Santa Barbara for two years. During the day I teach complex processes to UC students. Then at night I sleep in a van. I sleep in a van in order to be able to afford traveling to conferences, eating healthy, and therapy, and to avoid living in abject poverty.”

“No, definitely not. After adding up everything I spend money on (even with my conservative estimates), I spend more money than I make annually. I am able to do so because of previous savings and family support, but not every graduate student has that or should be expected to have that. My privilege allows me to pursue my dream here but this demonstrates the injustice in the system. I have had friends who have applied for food stamps because they were not getting paid enough, I have friends outside of graduate school who are shocked at how little we earn. I had an incident one summer where the university (Graduate Division) refused to release my summer funding for various bureaucratic reasons until the end of September, which is when fall quarter starts. So I had no funding all summer, even though my advisor and I had made sure to secure funds for me for the summer. I survived because I am lucky to have a family who will loan me money. But I could only picture many other graduate students who don’t have that safety net—what would they have eaten, how would they have paid rent? I had to practically force Grad Div to even release the funds at all, in the end getting my department admin involved. It was despicable, and they did not apologize or show any understanding of how serious the situation could have been.”

“No. I am constantly failing to make ends meet. I have to take out loans, drive for Uber and Lyft, use the food bank, limit my expenses to the needs only, and most of the time I am in debt. No savings whatsoever, and I am always behind on my class work because I have to drive and earn some money to survive. In addition to having a disability, the expenses issue does add a lot more stress. Plus, I am three months late on my rent. If I was not on campus, I would be houseless.”

“No. Not at all. It’s laughable. I have to work three university jobs to make ends meet, and it’s not enough to even be able to afford university-subsidized housing. I’m technically employed at a 100 percent right now but don’t let that reflect on my university paycheck since it’s ‘not allowed.’ But my family and I really couldn’t afford to live here if I don’t work 100 percent. As a consequence, my research and grad work has suffered.”

“No. Despite having a stable income and the fact that I have a longterm partner who is generationally extremely wealthy, I was almost unable to secure any kind of housing for the two of us when seeking a lease because I was the sole earner at the time of application; there is virtually no one- to two-bedroom apartment in Santa Barbara for which my paycheck is enough to make me an eligible tenant, even accounting for the fact that I have immaculate credit and have a high degree of educational and racial privilege. We finally connected personally with an individual landlord who was able to help us; we were not sure what we were going to do otherwise. Prior to my partner moving here, I was unable to keep my first lease for $900 per month (in which I shared a bathroom with five to seven other people and lived in a 130-square-foot studio including kitchen space). I moved into a series of illegal subleases with varying degrees of housing security. My situation is widely considered by graduate students to be the best-case scenario given our circumstances. That is appalling.”