I’m a graduate worker. The stipend I earn from IU, which is $15,750 before taxes for the 2020-21 academic year, covers all of my living expenses from rent and utilities to those obnoxiously priced textbooks (when they aren’t to be found online) to sustaining a pitiable diet.
Beyond these expenses — the bare necessities of getting by as a student — I’m expected to pay an additional $700 back to the university through mandatory fees every semester. This amounts to over 8% of my annual pay returning to the pockets of IU. For that alone, the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition’s demand to end the fees is an appealing one. With fees gone, I would be able to live with a slightly increased degree of comfort and could begin mitigating the looming threats of debt and anxiety that hang over nearly all graduate students’ heads.
But the demand to end the fees takes more into account than the pervasive precarity of graduate workers. Ending the fees is entirely financially feasible for the university, especially now.
2020 was a year of historic moments for IU. It marked the bicentennial for the institution and launched the university into a celebration of outstanding proportions. However, IU’s long lifespan was not the only milestone recognized last year. IU also broke records with a fundraising campaign associated with the bicentennial, bringing in nearly $3.9 billion “in support of IU students, faculty, and programs.” On top of that, IU brought in an unprecedented $1.15 billion in 2020 from external research awards and private philanthropy funding — for the first time in its history it surpassed $1 billion in a single year.
For those who maintain that IU — the institution, not the community — might very well be struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has significantly affected campus life for the past ten months, it requires only a cursory look at this past year's enrollment numbers to show this simply isn’t true. During the summer, when anything resembling an end to the pandemic was nowhere in sight, IU announced it set yet another record: summer enrollment had hit a new high with a 22% increase from summer 2019. Likewise, the university announced that “all of IU’s campuses hit their enrollment targets this fall.” As far as revenue from tuition and fees is concerned, IU is nowhere close to hurting financially. If anything, evidence suggests the opposite because an increase in enrollment indicates an increase in revenue.
All the while, with a steady stream of students coming through IU’s doors — figuratively speaking, at least for the time being — the Board of Trustees has instituted yet another round of increases to tuition, mandatory fees and room and board costs over the past year, further bolstering the financial standing of the university and leaving no signs of improvement in the wellbeing of IU’s graduate employees.
In the face of IU’s increased financial health, the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition’s call to end the fees is nothing more than a modest demand. It is fully within IU’s means to eliminate these immiserating fees once and for all. It’s simply a matter of determining whether or not IU truly is a campus “for all.”
Cole Nelson, member of the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition