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MIT announced last Friday that graduate student stipends will increase by 3.4 percent next year. The decision followed a meeting in Feb. among the Graduate Student Council (GSC), the provost, and the deans of the schools.

Based on their recent annual survey, the GSC estimates the cost of living for a graduate student has gone up by 4.9 percent for the coming academic year. The GSC said that housing and agricultural prices are increasing continually, affecting graduate students’ budgets and putting pressure on the council to request increases in stipends.

“We get information about the students’ consumption baskets and the percentage that each surveyed student allocates to each consumption good type,” said Alex H. Chan G, co-chair of the GSC’s Housing and Community Affairs subcommittee.

The annual survey characterizes the consumption behavior and cost of living of the MIT graduate student body. The survey polled 2200 graduate students, or 36 percent of MIT’s graduate population, a sample size Chan described as “huge.”

These percentages are then indexed to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ September-to-September inflation numbers for each of several consumption good categories. These categories, such as “Food and Beverages” and “Transportation,” are used to represent a graduate student’s total expenditure.

“Housing” makes up around half of the average graduate student’s expenditure, while “Food and Beverages” makes up just under 30 percent of that expenditure for both single and married students, Chan said.

Housing rents and food costs for the Boston area rose in the last few months of 2008.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting that, even if energy and fuel prices drop, food prices are likely to increase by four percent for the coming year.

In response to these expectations, the GSC gave a presentation on the cost of living calculations to the provost and deans at a meeting on Feb. 17.

“We presented the data objectively and the response from the administration seemed to be positive,” said Chan. In their presentation, the GSC presenters said that low levels of discretionary income put graduate students in a vulnerable position. This especially applies to international students, who make up 39 percent of the graduate student body and are not allowed to earn supplemental income.

Dean for Graduate Education Steven R. Lerman ’72 and Claude R. Canizares, vice president for research and associate provost, announced the decision to increase the stipends by 3.4 percent. The monthly stipends for the 2010–2011 academic year will range from $2,171 for engineering teaching assistants to $2,350 for Science and Engineering doctoral candidates.

Unlike graduate stipends, faculty and staff salaries will be frozen next year for faculty making more than $125,000 a year and staff making more than $75,000 a year. Graduate student stipends for the current year represent a 3.5 percent increase over last year.