Rutgers graduate students could lose their funding starting June 30.
Robin Roscigno left her full-time teaching position in 2017 to pursue her doctorate at Rutgers University.
“I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children with disabilities,” said Roscigno, 36, of Point Pleasant, NJ, a fifth-year doctoral student at Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education in New Brunswick. “I am an autistic woman and have an autistic child, so my work is deeply personal and shaped by my life experiences.”
Completing the work for a PhD at the best of times can be difficult. In a pandemic, Roscigno found that virtually impossible.
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The archives she needed access to for her research at Harvard were closed, and on top of that she said she had her then kindergarten-aged child at home full-time. Then his whole family contracted COVID-19 in 2021 and went back and forth to the hospital for a month. She is now dealing with lengthy COVID symptoms, she said.
All these setbacks mean she’ll need another year to finish, but she says Rutgers won’t give it to her. And she is not alone.
The Rutgers faculty union estimates that about 200 graduate students could lose their health insurance, tuition and fee remission and teaching jobs, which pay about $30,000, as of June 30. Students usually receive financial support and health insurance for a set number of years. , depending on their department.
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The university had provided some graduate students, whose research had been stalled during the pandemic, with funding beyond their guaranteed timelines, awarding about $15 million in direct aid or assistantships since March 2021. But the The federal money it was using for that will disappear starting July 1, the university said. It will be up to individual students and departments to make arrangements for students to continue their studies. It’s “an extraordinarily difficult and important question,” said university spokeswoman Dory Devlin.
Across the country, graduate students have encountered obstacles to completing their work during the pandemic, and colleges have tried to help, some offering general extensions and others on a case-by-case basis, while also seeking to balance the needs of these students by providing resources for new students.
At Temple University, Matt Ford, a staff organizer for the school’s Graduate Student Association, said graduate students also faced challenges but hadn’t gotten any sort of general relief from the pandemic. . Individual departments gave an extra year of funding to some students, but that wasn’t widespread, he said.
Ford, who is getting his doctorate in sociology, was able to get an extra year, along with several colleagues, he said. That meant the department didn’t fill those spots with new students that year, he said.
He hasn’t quite finished his doctoral work yet, he said, and he will be working other jobs this year to succeed.
At Rutgers, graduate students are discouraged and angry that the university is not giving them the support they need for another year, given the university’s $1.98 billion endowment as of Dec. 31 and its solid financial situation. The union estimates it would cost the university about $10 million for another year. The students picketed a meeting of trustees and asked for help from university president Jonathan Holloway.
“I worked as hard as I could,” Roscigno said at a recent town hall meeting where students from the school of education shared their concerns. “I naively assumed that my department would support me.”
But she said the department instead initially told students they would have to write an essay to compete for a scholarship. Several students who spoke at the town hall said they refused, likening it to turning their backs on valued colleagues.
“It was scary to think about not getting it,” Juliane Bilotta, 31, a fifth-year doctoral student from Toms River, NJ, said of the scholarship. “But it’s scarier to think about getting it.”
Bilotta, who is pursuing her doctorate in language teaching, was offered potential funding by the department for another year, but most of her colleagues weren’t so lucky. Before finding out, she had talked to her parents about moving out and getting help covering her health care or finding a full-time job.
“I was about to be without health care and without a job,” she said. “I shouldn’t have been this close to losing this.”
Bilotta said she had passed her qualifying exams and was on course to finish in five years before the pandemic hit. Along with some difficult personal losses, she said the pandemic meant she couldn’t continue her research, which was mostly conducted in K-12 classrooms. Even once schools resumed in person, there were obstacles. So she changed her plans and did her research at a university instead, she said.
In her first three years of graduate school, Roscigno, who is pursuing her doctorate in educational theory, policy and organization, said she is also on course to graduate within five years. She passed her qualifying exams in 2019, published three journal articles, an encyclopedia entry, and three book chapters, served on multiple national boards, delivered a TED talk, and received a prestigious award. she declared.
Even during the pandemic, she continued to teach him one course per semester at Rutgers, while working as an adjunct professor at another university.
His department recently asked students to rank what is more important to them: keeping their health insurance, their teaching salary, or their tuition and fee waivers. While on her husband’s health insurance, she needs others, she said.
Rutgers recently offered to give her a $2,500 scholarship, but it’s not enough, she said.
Now she and her husband are preparing for the reality that they will have to make up for the loss. She gives three lessons this summer and her husband, a music teacher, works four evenings a week.
“I’m going to have to try to finish by December,” she said. “I can’t afford to take two semesters.”