Purdue graduate students are seeing less in their paychecks this summer, which has reportedly caused financial troubles for many.
“I was in a state of pretty constant anxiety about like, ‘What am I going to do now that my pay has been changed in this really drastic way?’” said Roberta Weiner, a second-year master's student in the College of Agriculture.
In Fall 2018, Purdue decided to change graduate student pay from a monthly pay cycle to a biweekly pay cycle.
To help minimize the financial impact of the change, Purdue added some transition pay to each bi-weekly paycheck, making the amount students receive each month the same as before, Purdue spokesman Tim Doty said via email.
However, the money used to increase student’s monthly earnings were coming from later paychecks.
Many graduate students have said the change was not adequately communicated by Purdue.
“Honestly, it was explained to me three times, and I still didn't really get it very well,” said Taylor Bailey, Purdue Graduate Student Government president.
Though Bailey said repeatedly that the decision was communicated to graduate staff, he didn’t think the transition was explained well enough.
“No one told you you need to make sure you're putting money aside because you're getting paid extra,” he said.
An email sent in November out to all graduate staff said, “As part of the biweekly pay, you will receive a transition gross amount, which is a portion of your annual pay.”
“These emails had this really impenetrable legalese that after reading through five times, six times, bringing it to my faculty advisor, emailing the business office and having her email the business office, none of us could really still get to the bottom of,” Wiener said.
One graduate student, who asked to be unnamed because he’s close to graduating and doesn’t want to jeopardize his status, said this language was misleading.
He said Purdue officials failed to include how long the transitional pay would last, and they didn’t say the transition amount would be deducted all at once.
Initially the student said he thought the transitional payment would be only for the first biweekly payment, and because the amount was equal to the previous monthly amount, he didn’t realize anything was added.
“It would be one thing if the payment that I was getting for my biweekly was somehow higher than I expected it to be, then it would have raised some red flags,” he said.
Though budgeting workshops were offered, he didn’t attend. When he saw his paycheck was lower, he thought it was a clerical error.
“It's just upsetting to not even feel like I'm respected enough to just be told up front, ‘This is what we're doing to your pay. We're adding this much money, and then in the summer months, we're going to take this much money away, so plan for it,’” he said.
He had to ask his dad for money to pay his bills, which was humiliating, he said.
Weiner also did not attend the budgeting workshops, and she said the unpredictable way students received the money hurt their budgeting.
“Honestly, to be told that you just need to learn to budget better is condescending,” she said.
At first, Weiner thought the transition pay was a bonus, and she said many graduate students hoped to get ahead on other expenses.
According to Bailey, the change, which occurred the first pay period in December, was done without consulting graduate students.
“The decision to do this and how it was gone about was, as far as I know, as the leader of PGSG, completely devoid of any input or feedback from the grad students that were being affected,” he said.
Though Bailey admitted that PGSG could have been more proactive in preparing students, he was upset Purdue hadn’t included graduate students in the decision.
“I am dissatisfied by how this has happened,” he said. “I'm underwhelmed by the level of communication from the people in charge of having made all of these decisions, who never asked us what we thought just instead told us this is happening.”
Though Bailey said some students’ departments tried to help, Bailey said he only received two emails about the change.
Though the switch was also presented at a PGSG senate meeting in November, Weiner said the presentation was unclear.
“They didn't talk about the transition pay very much,” she said, “and there wasn't really any clear explanation of the fact that that would come out of our summer salaries.”
This change, which only affected graduate students, was largely to decrease manual work in business and payroll offices, according to the PGSG Senate presentation.
Though emergency loans are available through the dean of students, Bailey said there is little Purdue can do now for graduate students struggling.
Students living paycheck to paycheck likely won’t have extra money to pay back the emergency loans, according to Weiner.
An international graduate student, who asked not to be named, said this issue is about more than finances.
“This is not just about money,” she said. “I think it's also about a larger conversation on how grad students are not involved, how communication from the administration is often not transparent, and the fact that it has sort of really impacted people who are already not financially well off.”