AUSTIN (KXAN) — Graduate students at the University of Texas are sharing their financial struggles with the UT administration.

“My rent going up from last year to this year, the cost of a bunch of other things are going up,” said Jonathan Rojas, a UT master’s student in the Institution of Latin American Studies. “That wiggle room is gone.”

Rojas said the cost to live in Austin and be a student working with the university has posed many challenges.

“The university isn’t really understanding the situation graduate students are in,” Deepesh Verma, who shares the same views with Rojas, said. “We are making below a living wage in Austin.”

The minimum teaching assistant and assistant instructor salary for UT doctoral and terminal master’s students is $19,570 for positions that are 20 hours per week for nine months, but the university said there are opportunities to make more.

“We all deserve to make a living wage and we all deserve to be paid equitably which is the same dollar amount not based on what our projected career outcomes can be,” Lauren Nelson, a doctoral candidate in the English department at UT, said.

There are around 11,000 graduate students at the university with about 4,500 who hold benefits-eligible employment.

UT tells KXAN of the 4,500 benefits-eligible employees, most work as teaching assistants supporting classroom instruction or as graduate research assistants supporting a wide variety of research projects across campus. Many GRAs are supported through external grants that fund the research being conducted at the university, which ranges from working in labs to supporting social science research.

“We are definitely working full time then we have to work part-time jobs on top of that to make ends meet,” Verma said.

During the 2021-22 school year, the university invested $10.9 million in annual recurring funds to support graduate education, which was the largest increase in graduate student funding at UT.

Underpaid@UT letter to UT provost

On Monday, Underpaid@UT, the group that has been pushing for better salaries, dropped off a letter to UT Provost Sharon Wood.

The letter highlighted cost of living concerns, stipends that are not comparable with peer institutions and changes to health coverage.

Sharon Wood responded with a letter shortly after.

UT provost letter

“We understand many graduate students face challenges as they balance their academic and professional demands, which have intensified as a result of rising costs of living in Austin and elsewhere. We also know from our own graduate student experience how difficult it can be during this phase of your educational and professional journey. We are committed to your success and well-being during your time at The University of Texas and beyond,” Wood wrote.