Last year, Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences accepted a competitive 6 percent of applicants. But within this group that beat the narrow odds, only 64 percent chose to enroll.
This number, while surprisingly low at first glance to us at the College, is only a slight decrease from previous years, and no lower than some other graduate schools’ yield rates.
What concerns us is who can choose to join this 64 percent.
A recent GSAS working group report suggests that financial aid packages are no longer enough to attract top graduate students. According to the report, Harvard’s graduate students are paid $5,000 to $15,000 less per year than students at peer institutions, and they do not get subsidized housing.
We appreciate the report and the implementation of its recommendations this semester, but we can’t help but worry about the grimmer consequences of its findings for the production of knowledge at Harvard and beyond.
In providing financial aid packages that do not match the rising cost of living in Cambridge, GSAS directly contradicts its own claim of offering robust financial aid to attract top talent.
Instead, graduate school seems to be transforming into a tenable option only for the wealthy or those born into family legacies of academia. If these are the only students being set up for success, we are unsettled by the future direction of research and teaching across the nation. Such researchers, given their own privileged life experiences, may emphasize lines of inquiry that do not pertain to millions of Americans. Their identities may exacerbate rather than mitigate the alarming statistics of majority-white and majority-male faculty in higher education.
This larger impact can be traced back to Harvard adequately paying and housing its graduate students. With the nation’s educational future on the line, it is in Harvard’s best interest to take these issues seriously — lest they risk their prestigious status as a graduate school.
Two Harvard Graduate Students Union strikes in the past four years showcase the extent to which graduate students must scramble to secure their quality of life. GSAS should make good on its promise of robust financial aid by providing fair compensation for graduate students’ labor, ensuring a living wage adjusted for the rising cost of living in Cambridge.
The more complicated issue is housing. In 2019, Harvard’s average housing cost was almost double that of even peer institutions in comparably expensive neighborhoods like Princeton and Columbia — perhaps in part due to restrictive zoning laws.
Harvard’s inability to develop more housing for graduate students — despite owning a plethora of property in Allston — pits undercompensated graduate students in competition against better-endowed individuals. With the median rent in Allston jumping 36 percent from 2011 to 2019, this cutthroat housing market also affects local residents.
In labor and housing alike, GSAS should note the College’s model. Graduate students should not have to take on more teaching fellowships than they can comfortably manage, when the College holds undergraduate work-study expectations to a reasonable weekly rate. GSAS should provide financial aid for graduate student housing, just like what College students receive.
Burgeoning young researchers at GSAS nurture new seeds of scientific discovery, contributing to Harvard’s primary product of academic output. But GSAS can only advance the collective frontier of knowledge if prospective graduate students, from all kinds of backgrounds, know they can live here.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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