One Investment Worth Making:
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This year the average graduate RA, TA, or fellowship award was approximately $75,000 [Based on tuition, medical insurance, and an average stipend of $29,800]. In addition, MIT provided $226 million in tuition support [2013 MIT Report of the Treasurer]. Factoring in existing subsidies for graduate housing – as much as $12,000 per bed as Chairman Reed indicated in the last Faculty Newsletter – MIT paid around $256 million in graduate tuition support and rent subsidies. Considering all the present budgetary demands – including over $2.5 billion in deferred maintenance – one may ask whether additional on-campus housing is warranted, or whether stipends should increase at a higher rate commensurate with the off-campus housing market.
Regardless the approach, all indicators suggest that any future effort to house graduate students near campus will come at an additional cost. We submit that keeping students near campus is not only worth the cost, but necessary for MIT to fulfill its mission as a vibrant, productive, and inclusive academic community that fosters interdisciplinary collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
On a related note, the Graduate Housing Working Group report spoke briefly on the relation between graduate students and the upcoming capital campaign. In recent history, alumni have been the primary and most consistent source of philanthropic gifts to the Institute (see Figure 4). In 2012, graduates surpassed undergraduates as the majority of all living alumni, a shift that will continue to grow based on historic (see Figure 5) and projected student body populations. As a result, MIT’s approach to alumni engagement and philanthropic gift giving will need to respond accordingly.
Recent analytics and market research indicate that the likelihood of alumni to give to MIT is based primarily on affinity, or a sense of belonging to the MIT community, and affinity can be highly influenced by a student’s level of engagement in extracurricular, club, sport, social and other activities outside of academics and research. To the extent that on-campus housing can play a vital role in building community and creating a sense of affinity, we submit that on-campus housing should not be viewed as an additional cost or subsidy but rather as one investment worth making. An investment that, in the face of current financial pressures, prioritizes graduate students as an integral part of the MIT community, not only in the limited view of graduate students as future alumni that will pave the way for MIT’s financial future, but an investment in the community of current students whose constant on-campus presence is at the heart of what uniquely drives MIT as a global leader in science, engineering, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
While the costs of an increasingly disparate graduate student body may be difficult to quantify, we strongly feel the impact will be real. How does one gauge the value of late night Energy Club lectures, collaborations at the Trust Center, GSC multicultural events at Morss Hall, and after work drinks at the Muddy Charles Pub in driving MIT’s inclusive and collaborative ecosystem? How will the frequency and accessibility of those interactions be impacted by an increasingly dispersed graduate student body pushed apart by the economic strains of a competitive housing market? What message are we sending to students about their place in the MIT community if development decisions prioritize commercial development on and near campus while at the same time housing costs are pushing graduate students further away?
We express our deepest gratitude to the administration for engaging us this year in the Graduate Housing Working Group and East Campus Steering Committee and appreciate the constructive dialogue we have had in addressing these demanding issues. While we understand there are no simple answers to the challenges presented, we look forward to continuing the conversation as we work together to make MIT a better place.
Caleb Waugh is a fifth-year graduate student in Nuclear Science and Engineering, President of the Graduate Student Council and member of the East Campus Steering Committee.
Charlotte Seid is a fourth-year graduate student in Biology and a member of the Graduate Housing Working Group.
Marzyeh Ghassemi is a second-year graduate student in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Co-Chair of the GSC Committee on Housing and Community Affairs.
Andrea Dubin is a third-year graduate student in Earth Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Co-Chair of the GSC Committee on Housing and Community Affairs, and a member of the Graduate Housing Working Group.
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