Beginning with the new academic year, every Stanford PhD student will be eligible to receive 12 months of funding each year, for as long as five years.

Doctoral students in good academic standing will be eligible to receive 12 months of funding for up to five years at the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The commitment, announced by Provost Persis Drell this week, should help ease doctoral students’ affordability concerns, which have become even more pronounced during the COVID-19 crisis.

Drell said she is allocating funds, beginning with the 2020-21 academic year, that will allow any Stanford PhD student in good academic standing to receive this minimum funding commitment.

“I am glad we are able to make this permanent commitment to our PhD students,” she said, “and I am grateful to the deans of our seven schools, whose ongoing collaboration helps ensure that these students receive the support they need to make steady progress.”

The commitment to consistent funding, which aligns with goals of the university’s IDEAL initiative, was recommended by the Affordability Task Force as a way to help close funding gaps and ease financial uncertainty among doctoral students. Most of the task force’s recommendations have been delayed because of the pandemic crisis, but Stanford is able to take this step under the high-level budget plan the Board of Trustees approved in June.

“A clear message from the Affordability Task Force process is the critical role that stable funding plays in PhD students’ academic progress,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, an Earth system science professor and task force member. “Guaranteeing 12-month funding for five years will ensure that students in all of Stanford’s PhD programs have foundational support to maintain consistent focus on their academic progress, without added stress from uncertainty about the continuity of funding. There are many dimensions to the affordability challenges that graduate students face, and this funding commitment is a critical step to addressing those challenges.”

This commitment will directly affect about one-fourth of Stanford’s approximately 4,500 doctoral students, including many who are enrolled in programs in the Graduate School of Education and the School of Humanities and Sciences. While some individual doctoral programs already provide this funding expectation and commitment, all eligible PhD students will now be able to meet the 12-month estimated cost of attendance for a single student.

“Offering this assurance across the board is good for students and the faculty who support them, good for research and interdisciplinary studies, and good for innovative PhD training,” said Stacey Bent, vice provost for graduate education and postdoctoral affairs, whose office will implement the funds. “This extension of financial support underscores Stanford’s commitment to our doctoral students as they undertake research opportunities and pursue their degrees.”

Drell noted that many PhD students had already been dealing with gaps, uncertainties and variations in funding sources. The COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted and deepened vulnerabilities such as reduced employment possibilities and canceled fellowships. Funding opportunities under this new initiative are being determined, but will likely include teaching assistantships and research assistantships to pursue thesis research.

“I am thrilled that Provost Drell has made this strong commitment for doctoral students at Stanford,” said Debra Satz, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences. “Our graduate students are future leaders in their fields, innovators and contributors to society’s economic and social well-being. Supporting them in their doctoral programs is essential to allowing them to focus on their education and research.”