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Stanford expands support for graduate student parents

Advocacy groups, survey on graduate life inform changes

Extended accommodations for parents who are giving birth, dedicated lactation spaces on campus and a $10,000 need-based grant are among changes Stanford University is making to better support graduate students who are parents.

The initiatives, announced in a university blog post on Monday, were formed in response to an advisory group's recommendations on how Stanford can help graduate student-parents "manage demanding academic, research and family responsibilities."

In the post, Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs Patricia Gumport also previously credited the leaders of two student-led groups, Mothers in Academia and the Student-Parent Alliance, for their "effective advocacy" in raising these issues with university leadership.

The university is creating a new Family Grant program that will provide up to $10,000 per year for a graduate student with dependent children, Gumport wrote in the post. Students can use the funds to cover child care, health care and rent. In a 2017 survey on graduate student life, a quarter of respondents reported paying 17 percent or more of their university stipend on health care.

Child care is also increasingly expensive and difficult to access, both on- and off-campus. In the survey, graduate students with one young dependent said they pay an average of $1,000 to $1,500 per month for child care — 34 percent to 51 percent of the median stipend. Students with two or more dependents reported child care expenses climbing up to $3,500 per month, or 120 percent of the median stipend.

"This financial burden on top of other expenses is troubling and poses an obstacle to equity in the academy," the survey report states.

The new fund will absorb the longtime Escondido Family Fund, which was created through a gift from anonymous donors to provide rent subsidies to graduate student families with two or more children living in Escondido Village.

Applications for the new grant will be available online starting Aug. 1.

Stanford has also committed $500,000 in one-time funds to keep health insurance premiums flat for dependents on the university's Cardinal Care for the 2018-19 school year, Gumport said.

Starting in the fall quarter, graduate students who give birth will have a full quarter of childbirth accommodations compared to the current six weeks. The Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education provides stipend and tuition funding during the quarter of the birth of a child for a birth parent who is funded on a research or teaching assistantship.

A Faculty Senate committee focused on graduate education will take up the question of extending academic accommodations to non-birth parents in the new school year, Gumport wrote.

Stanford also added a policy to support lactating parents, whether at the undergraduate, graduate or postdoctoral level, and is adding dedicated spaces for lactation.

The university is consolidating information about resources and programs for student families in a new, dedicated webpage. A dean in the Graduate Life Office will serve as the "main point of contact to advise student parents on how to access resources, interpret policies, and engage in programs that build community," Gumport wrote.

Additional recommendations from the Student Families Working Advisory Group, including to create a Family Resource Center, increase diversity and expand mental health resources for graduate student-parents, will be discussed in the next budget cycle and as part of the university's long-range planing process, currently underway under the leadership of President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.

With a new housing complex for graduate students set to open in 2020, Stanford is also forming a working group to "identify opportunities that enrich graduate student life" at the building.

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