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Graduate Assistants Burdened by Low Wages and Expensive Fees

By Henry Fisher | December 6, 2021

Graduate Assistants at UAlbany are angered by the financial stresses of low wages and increasing fees attached to tuition. A little less than a month ago, Albany Graduate Students Employees Union (GSEU) members organized a protest on campus during a major open house for prospective students.

According to reporting by the Times Union, the stipend for a ten-month contract for a graduate assistantship can be as low as $16,500. They are also forced to pay mandatory fees on top of tuition prices. Currently, the students are charged $1,167.50 in fees, which is around 15% of the total cost of their tuition.

Graduate Assistant (GA) Jesse Chahal, who gets paid a $6,000-7,000 stipend, said, “I could not survive on that little stipend.” Chahal did not participate in the protest.

Chahal GAs for BITM 330, Improving Business Performance with Information Technologies. He explained that some of the fee issues arise from conflicts between the graduate-wide Graduate Student Association (GSA), the student government of the graduate school, and the Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU), who represents the Graduate Assistants.

Lowering enrollment of graduate students due to COVID-19 has led the GSA and the university to increase fees. Meanwhile, the GSEU has been trying to respond to demands by the student-worker population to lower the costs.

“I feel like certain fees should be waived for us because we’re employees, not just students,” said Chahal.

Chahal recalled one incident where he was not made aware of an extra charge.

“I was trying to sign up for classes, and I found out I had a hold under my account. So I wasn’t able to get the class I wanted. I still haven’t been able to sign up for classes because the class I wanted -- I’m on a waitlist,” said Chahal.

Chahal works another job at the NYSERDA, where he works on average 15 hours on top of being a GA. Many weeks, Chahal goes over the intended 10 hour work week for GAs, logging extra hours helping students with coursework.

“It's sort of my fault because I give too much to the students. I try to help them outside of class. I’ve gone out on weekends to meet up with students to help them with their homework and such. They email me at 11 o’clock at night -- sometimes I’m in the middle of a project -- but I help them too,” said Chahal.

Chahal mentioned that many students become GAs for the professional experience. However, the fact that they do not get paid livable wages creates a problematic situation that forces many to take on extra work on top of an already busy schedule.

“The school should understand that we have to eat and survive too -- I know I don’t, but some of them are struggling,” said Chahal. “One of my friends is having trouble paying for things and stuff just because they don’t make enough with that. They have another job too that does pay, but still -- this takes away time from that.”

According to Chahal, many MBA students have not become GAs due to massive workloads, internships, and general complications due to COVID-19.

“It's a lot of extra work, a lot of extra stress placed on you. You’re expected to know so much. I know for a lot of other GAs, it is difficult for them because they do have to live off of it … It pulls you in all directions,” added Chahal.


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