“I wish they were able to have more”: Graduate student funding officially decreases

Photo by Elise Gregg, PantherNOW

Elise Gregg | Editor-in-Chief

Budgets keep getting tighter at FIU. 

Last week, the Graduate and Professional Students Committee officially announced decreased funding for the new fiscal year. 

As the fall semester inches closer, the impact of SGA budget cuts becomes clearer, like with the cancellation of Panthermonium. The slash is particularly acute for graduate students whose academic life depends on travel and conference funding. 

“In graduate school, for most disciplines, you’re doing research of some sort,” said Haley Dawson, GPSC chair and graduate senator. “A lot of grant projects require that you present this data to the public.” 

“One of the ways we’re going to disseminate the research is yes, through publishing, but also through presentation.”  

In an email to all graduate students on Aug. 11, GPSC told students they’d receive less funding because of budget cuts and more conference and development applications. 

In some categories, funding went down by several hundred dollars per student. 

“Budget cuts mean that we opted to give some money to more people rather than the full amount to less,” said graduate senator Ahmed Soliman in an email to PantherNOW. “We will be advocating for a higher budget in the next budget hearing.” 

Starting in the fall, lasting until June 30 of next year, students will only receive up to $600 for international conference travel (down from $850) and up to $500 for conferences in the U.S. (previously $650). 

Students in their last year will also only get travel funding once – as opposed to twice previously. 

However, up to $300 of approved funding can be used for accommodations, up from $100. 

The committee will also only cover early registration for conferences included as part of the $500 to $600 limit. 

For professional development, students will only be able to get up to $200 for travel instead of up to $300 for attending. 

Budget cuts across the board this year were frustrating. Graduate senators, who represent a variety of disciplines at FIU, did their best to soften the blow. 

“It was a lot of back and forth conversations, looking at past budgets, looking at a lot of graphs and a lot of averages of how much money our students typically take out,” Dawson said. “We were looking at other universities to see what their average or general allocation for funding is for graduate travel.” 

SGA gave GPSC $200,000 this year – a $40,000 cut from the last fiscal year. 

“We were trying to take in all the information that we could and coming up with something that was reasonable enough for us to help the most students as possible but not limited so much that we would run out of funding by January,” said Dawson. 

The opportunities for graduates can be exciting, as well as often necessary for academic and professional growth. Getting them can be tricky, though.

Dawson is studying legal psychology and became a graduate student at FIU in 2019. Since then, she’s made her way up to GPSC chair – but she still remembers the challenges of getting funding early in her academic career. 

She and her fellow students can travel to the American Psychology-Law Society’s annual conference to present research and participate in professional development workshops – for 2024, it’s in sunny Los Angeles, California. 

“Some of the people that I know aren’t going to be going to our big conference next year, because it’s in LA, which is a very expensive city,” said Dawson. “If we’re getting funding cuts, we just can’t afford it.” 

In response to a PantherNOW Instagram call-out, other grad students told stories similar to Dawson’s. 

Blaire Kleinman, a second-year Ph.D. student studying plant-insect ecology, said she uses GPSC funding every year to travel to conferences. 

“Now that the funding is even less it will mean us having to cover an even bigger portion of the costs, if not withdrawing from the conference altogether,” said Giovanna Violi, a second-year graduate student studying history. 

For her, the process of getting GPSC funding was already aggravating from the get-go. By the time her funds were approved, flight tickets got more expensive as she tried to figure out how to cover the rest of her travel apart from what the committee could cover. 

“Some of the funding at the college/department level are linked to GPSC funding,” she added, explaining that some schools at FIU only fund students who were already approved by the committee. “GPSC having less funding could result in grad students having less funding even at the college or department level.” 

Dawson confirmed that that’s the case, clarifying that having less funding would be true if GPSC runs out of money to fund students like they did this summer – they’re avoiding that by decreasing the overall funding amount per student.

Over the last four years, Dawson has seen some of the struggles that graduate students face in academia, sometimes feeling ignored compared to their undergraduate counterparts.

“I think we graduate students often feel kind of left out of those really important conversations, when we are adults navigating an adult world and this is our job as graduate students,” Dawson said, adding that it’s especially hard in Florida state schools, where grad students can’t work outside their university. 

The pressure can get intense.

“There’s such an emphasis, especially in academia, of you have to go into conferences, you have to network, you have to make the connections – it’s publish or perish,” Dawson said. “You have to keep going, going going.” 

“Having that additional barrier of money, preventing you from being able to do kind of the things that you’re expected to do can be really challenging, particularly for those like really expensive conferences.” 

Even with a $40,000 cut, this year’s allocation was hard for student government to pass during budget deliberations at the beginning of the year. 

In 2022, following an emergency budget deliberation, the committee got $240,000.

That was after the original budget was shot down. The allocation for GPSC at that point had been a meager $129,050. 

“$100,000 obviously would not have been enough, so the fact that that was the proposal two years ago boggles my mind,” SGA President Alex Sutton told PantherNOW. “$200,000 I really think should be the floor.” 

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SGA’s original budget proposal for the 2022-23 fiscal year | Courtesy of Alex Sutton

Sutton sat on the budget committee for the 2023-24 fiscal year and said he was disappointed with what they were able to give as well. 

“I really think that it’s unfortunate…I wish they were able to have more,” said Sutton. “I think that was a difficult decision to make, but it should be taken in the context of all of the other budget cuts that we made as well.” 

He added that he feels the current amount is still enough to function, hoping that the next round of deliberations will include more overall revenue from the activity and service fee – which means more money for organizations all around. 

“GPSC is going to be advocating to the budget committee through some of the messages…and concerns brought up by other graduate students,” Dawson said. “We really plan on proposing what our ideal budget would be for the budget committee for the next year to really demonstrate we have a need here.”  

This year though, Dawson understands the difficulties budget committee members faced.

“I don’t think anybody received the same amount of money,” she said in comparing previous years. “I’m pretty sure nobody got more than they had previously.” 

“Is there anything more they could do? Sure, but then that would be cutting funding from other areas – I think they made tough decisions.”

While this year may be challenging for grad students, Dawson’s recommendation was that FIU give students as many avenues as possible for funding. 

“I think this is a really great time for colleges and programs to look at where their budgets are going because obviously, it’s not just in student government budget cuts – it’s happening across the university,” Dawson said. “GPSC is ideally only one pot to pull from for travel funding.”

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