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Northwestern Raising Stipends for Ph.D. and MFA Students

Graduate School expects move will attract top students, enhance quality of life
  • President and provost announce base stipend to increase to $29,000 a year
  • University is investing $6.25 million in new funding annually for the raise
  • Will help Northwestern “continue to pursue greatness as a research university”
  • Graduate student: “It’s fantastic, and it was completely unexpected as well!”

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro and Provost Daniel Linzer announced today (May 27) that beginning this fall, the base stipend paid to Ph.D. and MFA students in The Graduate School (TGS) will increase to $29,000 a year from the current $22,992.

The University is investing $6.25 million in additional funds annually for this raise in the level of the stipend. The move is expected to enhance the quality of student life, promote enrollment of top applicants and improve faculty recruitment and retention while furthering research.

The increase, which becomes effective Sept. 1, “marks another major investment in graduate education under the leadership of TGS Dean Dwight A. McBride,” the president and provost observed in a letter sent to the Northwestern community announcing the raise.

“Graduate education is a key component of Northwestern’s research mission, and graduate students are critically important members of our community, who contribute great dynamism and creativity to our research and academic environment,” the president and provost observed.

“Graduate students support the research of faculty, teach and mentor undergraduate students, contribute to the discovery of new knowledge and collaborate with postdoctoral fellows, staff, administrators and community members.”

The letter also noted that the increase “will enable Northwestern to continue to pursue greatness as a research university working to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges and educating the thought leaders of the future.”

In a separate letter announcing more details of the decision to the University graduate community, McBride declared, “We are truly pleased to have this opportunity to invest in our graduate students as they prepare to become the next generation of scholars.”

McBride noted, “Northwestern has been a leader in supporting graduate students, and more recently postdocs, and we are delighted that this new investment will aid us tremendously in maintaining our place among our very competitive group of institutional peers.

McBride, who is associate provost for graduate education, observed that the increase will help “further TGS’s diversity and inclusion goals,” and he noted it will also “level the local playing field between schools, academic disciplines and departments for current students.”

Northwestern has built excellent graduate programs with preeminent faculty, he said, noting, “Across Ph.D. programs, Northwestern routinely competes with Penn, Duke, Chicago, Cornell, Columbia, Yale and Stanford.”

While data show Northwestern typically is more successful recruiting students in the life sciences and physical sciences, mathematics and engineering, the raise will help increase the numbers of graduate students recruited to Northwestern who also get accepted into peer schools -- especially in the arts and humanities and social and behavioral sciences.

There were 3,131 Ph.D. and MFA students enrolled at Northwestern in the fall of 2014, and they already had some strong competitive advantages by attending the University -- including a platinum level of health care coverage, a guaranteed five-year funding package and a high availability of sixth-year support options.

Students also have demonstrated success with their Northwestern degrees -- compared to those of peers schools -- when they move on to job placements and post-degree completion positions in institutions across a variety of disciplines, according to TGS statistics.

“Increasing the base stipend rate can only lead to positive outcomes in our graduate population,” McBride said. “This is a strong message of support to the graduate community: Students are being shown that their work and contributions to our research environment are deeply valued.” “The stipend increase also will help us continue to recruit and retain the highest caliber of graduate students, faculty and postdoctoral fellows going forward.”

Reacting to the news, graduate students who will be affected by the increase expressed their gratitude to the president, the provost, Board of Trustees and TGS administration. Several expressed similar sentiments about what the increase in their stipend would mean for them personally.

Andrew Zimmerman, a fourth-year graduate student in the physics department, is researching the quantum phase transition of superfluid 3He at temperatures that get within a thousandth of a degree of absolute zero. “A higher stipend will definitely make things easier for graduate students, especially those who have families,” he said. “It also will encourage graduate students to live close to campus in Evanston, instead of Chicago.”

Zimmerman also sees the stipend increase as a way to encourage prospective students to come to Northwestern. “I came to Northwestern to work with my advisor -- and would have come regardless of the stipend rate,” he said, but he noted the raise in the stipend will help the University attract top students. “When I talk to visiting students, it’s good to be able to say they won’t have to worry about money when they’re here,” he said. “I think it makes a difference.”

Laura Carrillo, a third-year student in the sociology department, is focusing her research on inequality in -- among other areas -- race and ethnicity, education and housing. “I am really excited about the stipend increase, which will obviously have a positive impact on my life,” said Carrillo, who has a 7-year-old son. “It will make it much easier for me to pay necessary expenses, including housing, my car and my son’s schooling without struggling.”

For first-generation Ph.D. students who “rely entirely on the promise of a fully funded education,” she added, the stipend increase is especially meaningful, because it “enables us to be more self-sufficient without having to seek a second job.” Moreover, she thinks the higher base stipend rate will help with recruitment, particularly of low-income students. “A higher stipend would definitely have attracted me to Northwestern more,” she said.

Lev Daschko, a second-year Ph.D. student in the history department who studies the relationships between different ethnic groups in the former Habsburg Empire during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, said the stipend increase will allow him to worry less about the cost of living near campus.

“It’s difficult to find an apartment that is comfortable, conveniently located relative to campus, and affordable, especially in Evanston,” said Daschko, who lives in south Evanston. “The higher stipend will go a long way in helping me not have to worry about how each rent increase is going to impact where I live.”

Daschko, who is from Toronto, also is excited about the increased stability the higher stipend rate will provide for foreign students. “As an international student, it can be especially difficult, because I don’t have a support base in the U.S. -- my family is in Canada,” he explained. “When I came here I didn’t have a credit score, so it was hard to get a cellphone plan, and I had to show a lot of money up front to get my apartment. The stipend increase will make things more stable.

“The stipend increase is very welcome,” he said. “It’s fantastic, and it was completely unexpected as well!”

In their letter to the University community, President Schapiro and Provost Linzer observed that the additional funding “will also alleviate some of the financial stresses that occur during doctoral studies.”

“As Northwestern continues to advance its research agenda,” they said, “increased stipends will allow our doctoral programs to continue to attract the very best students from diverse backgrounds to train with our distinguished faculty.

“Continuing to advance Northwestern and solidifying our position among the world’s leading research universities require a significant investment of resources,” they added, “in research and program support, facilities, faculty recruitment and retention, and undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships.”