$4,000 for Incoming Students to Offset Housing Cost

Columnist
Campus

To combat the deterrent that housing prices have placed on incoming students, Graduate Division Dean Elizabeth Watkins is introducing a $4,000 housing stipend for all incoming PhD students beginning with the 2016 cohort.

The “Relocation Allocation Program” — or “relo-allo” in Dean-speak — is a one-time payment meant to last for two classes, with a possible extension. For an estimated cohort of 150 PhD students, the cost for Relo-Allo is $600,000 per year, for a total of $1.2 million.

Concern that San Francisco has become a gated community for the wealthy rings especially true at UCSF. The soaring price of San Francisco and Bay Area housing has put a damper on the lives of UCSF students and employees, many of whom struggle to afford the cost of living while working or attending school. 

For the basic science PhD programs, the yield of enrolling students dropped from about 45% for 2010-2014 to 34% in 2015.

“Comments from the students who declined admission included many concerns on cost of housing,” said Wendy Winkler, Chief of Staff for the Graduate Division Dean.

“The primary purpose of the Relo-Allo program is recruitment – to help graduate programs draw top talent in spite of the high cost of living in San Francisco,” according to a fact sheet by Graduate Division Dean Elizabeth Watkins’s office.

The Relo-Allo program aims to combat move-in costs, helping students afford leases requiring steep security deposits, and first and last month’s rent paid upfront. Such a high financial barrier threatens the diversity of UCSF’s campus and its mission to be an inclusive academic environment. Associated Students of the Graduate Division (ASGD) President Michael Le hopes the program will help PhD programs be accessible to students from different income backgrounds. 

“We don’t want to just attract students that can afford to come to San Francisco,” said Le.

Watkins proposed the allocation at the ASGD December board meeting. The dean did not require ASGD approval, but sought advice and the participation of graduate student representatives. The board voted unanimously to support the program.

“The general consensus within our board meeting was that we felt like it was a very positive thing because at least it’s something — a tangible solution for students,” said Le.

What About the Rest of Us?

The Relo-Allo program will likely stir resentment among the ineligible — current UCSF students, many of whom struggle to make ends meet.

The Relo-Allo fact sheet admits the program plays a small role.

“The Relo-Allo program is NOT meant to be a solution to the housing crisis!” it states “We acknowledge that the problem is much larger and more complex.”

Indeed, UCSF has many housing development projects in the works — in the Dogpatch, Tenderloin, and Civic Center neighborhoods.

“We appreciate that sentiment, and we understand that current students (especially 1st and 2nd years) may feel as though they missed the boat,” said Winkler regarding possible resentment from current students. “Unfortunately, we simply do not have the funds to expand the program beyond the incoming cohort.”

Ultimately, housing costs are too high for everyone to be happy.  

“The perfect solution would be housing for everyone within a month,” said Le. 

Still, current students may be miffed that of the $1.2 million in housing allocation money, they are receiving zilch.

Watkins’s office emphasizes that the Relo-Allo program is about recruitment, not solving the housing crisis. Le said the ASGD understood the importance of bringing good students in, which is why they voted to support the proposal.

“We [current students] are already here,” he said, “but if we don’t maintain good people coming in, then the quality of our education and the quality of our programs will start degrading too.”

Where’s the money coming from?

A pair of non-recurring sources is providing the $1.2 million funding needed. About $200,000 will come from Program in Biological Sciences (PIBS), which has an endowment to support PhD students in programs under the PIBS umbrella including CCB, Biophysics, DSCB, Immunology, Neuroscience, and TETRAD. The remaining $400,000 will come from the Graduate Division — specifically an allocation from the Chancellor intended to support first-year PhD students. While this allocation no longer exists, some funds remain.

Since funding is non-recurring, Relo-Allo is only a two-year pilot program. Le hopes it will at least be a “stopgap” that can keep PhD students coming to UCSF until a large swath of new student housing is completed in 2020.

Joint Programs

Earmarking this money for “incoming first-year PhD students” means some tightrope walking for joint programs. DDS/PhD students that do the PhD first will be eligible, however MD/PhD students will not, since they begin their UCSF careers in medical school.

“We would be delighted if the SOM Dean’s Office matched this program for those students,” said Winkler.

As for the joint UCSF/UC Berkeley Bioengineering program, the 50% of incoming BioE students assigned to UCSF as their home campus will be eligible, while the 50% at Berkeley will not. This inequity among classmates will certainly cause some tension. The hope is that this program will inspire other programs to fund their students in a similar way.

“The Dean has met with the UCSF chair of the BioE program, who will appeal to her UCB counterpart to get the Berkeley BioE department to provide a similar relo-allo to the 50% of students assigned to that campus,” said Winkler.

Despite these challenges, hopefully the Relo-Allo program will allow UCSF to recruit the best students and increase UCSF’s accessibility for students from lower income backgrounds.