Fair Wages and Regular Pay Increases

Note: In October 2022, the UAF Graduate School announced an increase in the base pay from $15.73/hour to $21.00/hour. A graduate student-worker making the base pay now makes $15,120/academic year for a full-time assistantship and $11,340/academic year for a 75% assistantship. The base pay for UAA graduate student-workers had already been raised to $21.00/hour beginning Fall 2022.

This is the first increase in base pay for UAF graduate assistants since 2007. Although substantial, this increase does not fully rectify the decrease in wages graduate student-workers have experienced due to rising costs of housing, groceries, and other essentials. Further, this increase occurred only after the UAF Graduate School was made aware that graduate assistants intended to unionize.

Graduate Students Deserve Fair Wages and Regular Pay Increases 

According to the MIT Living Wage calculator, which calculates the “minimum subsistence wage” (only includes the "bare necessities and does not include savings, travel, and other expenses) required to live in locations across the US, a single adult with no children needs to make $35,591 in Fairbanks and $35,080 in Anchorage; a single adult with one child would require $77,109 in Fairbanks and $73,195 in Anchorage [1]. But the minimum stipend for a graduate assistant working full-time (20 hours/week) for the academic year is $15,120 for UAF and UAA, or 42.5% and 43.1% of a living wage respectively [2].

Between 2007 and 2022, UAF graduate assistants did not receive any increases to the minimum pay set by the university and the wages in most departments have also stagnated. Yet, cost-of-living in Fairbanks continues to rapidly rise. Between 2018 and 2022, the living wage for a single adult with no children in Fairbanks had risen by 33.5% [3]; few, if any, graduate assistants have seen an increase of that size in their wages.

UAA and UAF Graduate Students Often Live Below the Poverty Line 

The poverty line as determined by HHS is $18,210 for a 1-person household in Alaska [4]. A full-time graduate assistant can be paid only $15,120 at UAF and UAA while simultaneously being forbidden from taking on outside work in their contracts. Graduate assistants in departments such as Anthropology, Communications, and ACNS at UAF are contracted for only 15 hours/week; those graduate students can earn as little $11,340 for the academic year. 

The chart above shows the average wages for graduate assistants at UAF ($17,019) and UAA ($15,661) for the academic year. These averages were calculated based on reported department pay rates and the FY23 salary data [12]. they reflect the increase graduate assistants saw beginning in Spring 2023 (for UAF) and Fall 2022 (for UAA). They do not include graduate assistants who are paid half-time or less.

Since summer funding varies dramatically by department and even lab, it was not taken into consideration when calculating the average wages above. Some students might be able to get full-time hours during the summer, while others can only get half-time hours, and many can get no funding at all. 

UAF Knows Graduate Students Do Not Have Enough to Survive 

According to UAF’s financial aid website, a graduate student should expect to spend $16,900 on housing, books and supplies, miscellaneous and personal expenses, and transportation for the academic year [5].

For housing alone, UAF expects a graduate student to pay $10,650 (for a shared, 2-bedroom apartment, the cheapest EFG housing available) or 70.4% of the minimum stipend for a full-time graduate assistant. Housing options such as studios and one-bedrooms are often more than the minimum stipend.

*Does not include fees.**UAF does not provide a separate estimate for off-campus housing.

Unionized Campuses Have it Better 

UAF lists Oregon State University and University of Rhode Island as “research peer” institutions [6]. Additionally, the Chancellor identifies New Jersey Institute of Technology and Brown University as peer Tier-1 universities [7]. Each of these four universities have graduate student unions.

Oregon State University pays its graduate students a minimum of $21,168 [8]. University of Rhode Island pays its graduate students a minimum of $21,480 [9].

NJ Institute of Technology pays its graduate students a minimum of $25,500 (a $1,500 increase between their 2019 and 2021 pay) [10]. Brown University pays its graduate students a minimum of $26,932 (including an increase of 2.5% per year) [11].

*The wages for NJIT and Brown are for the 22-23 academic year, not 23-24 academic year. Both graduate unions are in active negotiations with their universities for a new contract. Their 23-24 wages will likely be higher.

Unions work. Unionized graduate students are consistently paid more and better able to negotiate for regular increases in pay. It’s time UAA and UAF graduate students join together and make sure our voices are heard.