Organizing Education

By Matthew Paymar

This article is from the March/April 1997 issue of Dollars and Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice available at

This article is from the March/April 1997 issue of Dollars & Sense magazine.

issue 210 cover

Graduate students have always been expected to work long hours for little pay, with the understanding that after a few lean years they would move from "apprentice" to professional. In recent years, however, this post-graduation scenario has become less likely.

Universities have been replacing stable tenure-track positions with part-time and temporary teaching jobs that typically offer low pay and no benefits. As a result, graduate student-workers are becoming less willing to delay gratification for several years until they attain their doctorate, since doing so is not likely to yield a permanent job.

At the same time universities have been saving money by shifting teaching loads onto the backs of graduate students. In 1994, graduate students and temporary lecturers performed 51% of university teaching, compared to 25% in the 1970s, says the American Association of University Professors.

Worse yet, their current incomes have been stagnating, especially when rising tuition and fees are factored in. A net income of $9,000 or $10,000 may seem viable for a young, single student. But today the median age of graduate students is 34.1 years, and over half of them are married, according to the National Science Foundation. And it takes 7.2 years for the average doctoral student to complete their studies -- an awfully long time to voluntarily remain at a poverty-level income.

Approximately 25,000 graduate students are members of a dozen officially recognized unions in the United States, and a new graduate student union has been formed or recognized each of the past five years. More established unions, such as the American Federation of Teachers and the Communication Workers of America, have discovered that the area is ripe for organizing.

To capitalize on the growing momentum, the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions (CGEU) held a National Day of Action on February 27. For further information contact the CGEU by Email at

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