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Stipends for Research Assistants Increase Six Percent

Raises Help to Offset Cost-of-living Increase

By Mike Hall

Stipends for graduate research assistants will increase for the 2001 fiscal year to compensate for the ever-increasing cost of living in the Boston area.

The Academic Council has recommended to MIT that RA stipends be increased by six percent, bringing RA’s closer to the pay level of teaching assistants.

Two of MIT’s five schools have already accepted the recommendation with minor modifications. The School of Science approved a 6.12 percent increase for all graduate students, while the School of Engineering increased stipends by 6.03 percent for doctoral students and 5.96 percent for master’s students.

Departments can adjust stipends

Dean for Graduate Students Isaac M. Colbert said that individual departments can adjust the raises by as much as ten percent. The adjustments would not require outside approval.

The Department of Material Science and Engineering, in fact, has already increased RA stipends for master’s and doctoral students by 5.96 percent and 6.03 percent, respectively. TA stipends in the department increased by only three percent.

The recommended raise is only slightly above the increase in cost of living, which rose two percent in the metro Boston area this year.

Housing shortage forces increase

Since rent control’s termination in Cambridge several years ago, housing costs in the area have increased dramatically. Vice President and Dean for Research J. David Litster cited such rising costs as a major justification for the RA stipend increase.

Litster expected most departments to increase stipends in accordance with the recommendation. Graduate Student Council President Luis A. Ortiz G agreed and applauded the increase.

“The faculty and senior administration have been convinced that this is a significant issue for recruiting new students,” Ortiz said. The increase will also help maintain “a reasonable quality of life for continuing students.” Ortiz encouraged all schools to adopt the recommendation, calling cost-of-living adaptation a “universal need.”

Colbert added that MIT is trying to improve further improve living and research conditions for RAs.

“The Provost has reduced the cost of RAs to researchers’ contracts by fully subsidizing summer term tuition as of this coming summer, resulting in savings of about $8,600 per RA,” Colbert said, adding that the new benefits aid MIT in recruiting graduate students.

MIT is also planning the construction of additional graduate housing in the residence system alleviate the housing expenses. Most recently, the administration proposed converting NW30 to graduate housing.

Tax changes prompt stipend raises

In addition to the cost-of-living increase, a change in the taxability of stipend money contributed to the Academic Council’s decision. Colbert said that a change in MIT’s accounting system allowed RA funding, which was formerly exempt from tax withholding, to be treated in the same manner as TA funding. TA stipends are treated as salary expenditures and are eligible for tax withholding.

“There was some justification for paying [TAs] at a higher rate to reflect the real tax withholding burden,” Colbert said, adding that withholding for both groups has rendered that justification invalid.