As we’ve made clear, CSU graduate workers are uniquely underpaid and overcharged compared to our peer institutions. After continued organizing and pressure, the CSU administration finally announced plans to fully phase out student fees for graduate workers by the 2025-2026 academic year. While we commend this decision, it does not impact our base compensation which is unacceptably low. There’s a clear next move the CSU administration should take: pay graduate workers a living wage.
According to the university’s own research, our minimum stipend is well below a living wage for one adult in Larimer County. In the 2022-2023 academic year, it has only gotten worse. Our minimum monthly stipend is $1,792. But according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, an individual needs to earn $2,926 a month to meet basic needs in Larimer County.
Each year, the administration is content offering a three percent cost of living adjustment to our pay. Last year, inflation was more than double that. According to Apartment List, rent in Fort Collins increased by 21% since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. The last increase to our stipends beyond inflation was in 2010. With the cost of living far outpacing our so-called annual raises, graduate workers are only falling further behind.
This is not a theoretical problem. Graduate workers at CSU commonly pick up second jobs, are food insecure, and struggle to live on uniquely low pay. That’s why we’re organizing for a living wage.
It’s clear this won’t be easy. In the past, our administration has ordered the custodial team to remove our organization’s posters from academic buildings. Tony Frank, chancellor of the Colorado State University System, has written against students forming unions. CSU graduate workers see through this deception, know the strength of collective power, and GWOC’s numbers continue to grow.
The benefits of graduate unions are clear. Here at home, CU Boulder’s graduate workers successfully organized to have their student fees fully covered by the university without the need for a multi-year phase-out. In November last year, University of California academic workers held the longest higher education strike in U.S. history, winning raises of up to 80 percent. We’re organizing for similar wins.
With that in mind, we call on the administration and Amy Parsons — CSU’s new president — to take action. In her inaugural email, Parsons said she is “keenly focused” on improving graduate student compensation. We agree this should be a top priority. Our administration has a responsibility to pay us fairly.
What would that look like?
Well, using the same Colorado Center on Law and Policy guidance, a living wage for graduate workers in Larimer County for twelve months approaches $40,000 annually — almost double our current salaries. Though the administration might respond we’re part-time employees, and therefore paid as such, the reality is the demands of research and teaching leave little time for making additional income. For international graduate workers, their visas prevent any outside work. If we truly profess to be an institution engaged in diversity and inclusion, we must better support our graduate students.
To Amy Parsons and CSU’s administration: now is the time to achieve a living wage. This is a feasible reality. CSU has an operating budget of more than $1.4 billion this year; adequately paying graduate workers is a matter of prioritizing the people who keep this institution running.
Are you a CSU graduate worker? Come join your union! GWOC’s membership is growing — and with that, so does our ability to demand a living wage.