After voting in favor of becoming an NLRB-recognized union, the Duke Graduate Students Union will begin negotiating for a collective bargaining agreement with the University, which could span topics ranging from fair compensation for Durham’s cost of living to health and dental insurance.
Some doctoral students at Duke’s peer institutions are unionized, while others are not. Here’s how their benefits currently compare.
Minimum annual stipends
The minimum annual stipend for Duke doctoral students is $38,600 for the 2023-24 school year, an 11.4% increase from the previous year. One of DGSU’s top demands is for a cost-of-living-adjusted stipend, and members of the union have also previously demanded a $40,000 stipend.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill does not have minimum annual stipends. However, doctoral students must have a minimum annual stipend of $20,000 per nine-month service period in order to qualify for tuition remission and in-state tuition awards
North Carolina State University does not have minimum annual stipends either, and doctoral students must have a minimum stipend of $15,000 to qualify for tuition support during the 2023-24 academic year.
Columbia University’s doctoral students, who are unionized and reached a contract in January 2022, have a 12-month appointment minimum stipend of $45,700 for the 2023-24 academic year, which is set to increase to $47,100 for the 2024-25 academic year.
Harvard University’s doctoral students are currently unionized with a contract effective as of 2021. In the 2021 fiscal year, the minimum annual stipend was $40,632 for a life sciences research assistant, $39,000 for a physical sciences research assistant and $36,672 for other research positions. The Harvard Graduate Student Union agreed to have these stipends raised by 3% every year until the 2025 fiscal year.
Northwestern University’s doctoral students, who voted to unionize in January but are still in negotiations for a contract, have a minimum annual stipend of $36,960 for the 2023-24 academic year, a 5% increase from the previous year.
Stanford University’s doctoral students, who voted to unionize in July but are still in the process of bargaining and negotiating a contract, have a minimum annual stipend of $50,616 for assistantships in the 2023-24 academic year.
Health and dental insurance
Duke currently pays the medical and dental insurance premiums for doctoral students in their first six years if they are on Duke’s student plans.
UNC’s Graduate Student Health Insurance Program (GSHIP) provides annual health insurance coverage for an annual cost of $5,096.04. According to the GSHIP website, “the minimum prescribed compensation amount for services that a student must receive is $8,000.”
NC State fully covers the cost of a school-provided doctoral student health insurance plan if the student qualifies for their Graduate Student Support Plan, which involves master’s students having a minimum stipend of $10,000 and doctoral students having one of $15,000.
Columbia does not guarantee funding for their student health insurance plan, though the plan does include some coverage and discounts for dental and vision coverage. For students who have secured external funding, health fees are covered by their school within the university.
Harvard’s doctoral students receive individual medical and dental “coverage at no premium cost to the student” for all doctoral student workers, according to the collective bargaining agreement.
Stanford currently does not provide free dental, medical or vision care to enrolled doctoral students. According to the Stanford Graduate Workers Union’s website, more than a third of surveyed respondents “reported that they had foregone medical, dental, or vision care because they could not afford it.”
Yale’s doctoral students get a basic health coverage plan for no cost, and are also provided optional dental and vision care plans.
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Ishani Raha is a Pratt junior and a senior editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Jazper Lu is a Trinity junior and managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.