Amber Dukes, a UNM graduate student in psychology, took on an extra grading assistant position this semester on top of her teaching assistant job to avoid student loans.
“I’m in poverty,” she said. “I had to take on an extra GA-ship just to be able to pay my bills without taking out student loans.”
Dukes, who is also the GPSA chair for the Equity and Inclusion Committee, stood in support of increasing stipends for graduate assistants, teaching assistants and research assistants at a Graduate and Professional Student Association meeting on Saturday.
Graduate and Professional Student Association President Priscila Poliana said these UNM student employees have not seen an increase in their wages for several years.
“The last increase in pay that TAs, GAs and RAs had was in 2009,” she said. “That means that we have five years without a pay increase. If we account for CPI, the consumer price index, that means that we actually got a 7 percent cut in pay over these years.”
The CPI measures the average change of cost for goods and services purchased by urban consumers monthly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Consumers in the west urban area have experienced about a 7.7 annual percentage increase in the price of goods and services from 2009 to 2013, according to the site.
Poliana said she thinks the council should consider going for a stipend increase that would bring the assistantship positions’ pay back to what it was in 2009.
“I think that what we need to do, really, is to advocate for the 7 percent increase,” she said.
There are about 1,500 teaching and research assistantships available to graduate students across the University, according to the UNM Graduate Studies website.
GPSA Chief of Staff Matthew Rush said the increase that they are looking at would be ongoing for the students.
“Currently, this one is looking at being a standard increase on the budget for paying for employees,” he said.
While students have seen pay cuts due to increases in the cost of living, the state Legislative Finance Committee put forward a proposal to the governor suggesting a 1.5 percent increase for University employees, Poliana said.
“There is some good news in that respect,” she said. “It doesn’t fix the problem, but it’s better than nothing.”
The LFC proposal would apply to state, public school and higher education employees who are not on probation and have satisfactory job performance, according to a document of the proposal on the New Mexico Legislature website.
Pre-master level and post-master TAs who work half time earn between $6,789 and $7,469 in five months, according to the UNM Graduate Studies website. According to the site, pre-master level and post-master GAs earn between $6,296 and $6,926 in five months.
Stipends for RAs are paid monthly based on the number of days worked. Salaries are determined by a principal investigator based on the funding agency’s guidelines, according to the site.
Poliana encouraged students on the council to get involved in the project.
“We just need help,” she said. “We need people to join working groups and help us out. This type of advocacy takes a lot of time and effort.”