Making Good on Our Commitment to Needy Students

February 22, 2013

"Everyone is poor in graduate school," I explained to Anna, a chemistry major who was weighing the offers she had received to several excellent Ph.D. programs. Exact amounts of stipends don't really matter, I told her. They're all roughly the same, and you'll have enough to live on. She chose a graduate school, enrolled, and I didn't hear from her much until I got an e-mail three years later. She had to leave her Ph.D. program, she wrote. Her mother had been diagnosed with cancer and had no way to support herself. So Anna (not her real name) moved back home. "Being in the Social Security office," she told me, "trying to get health care for my mother, brought me to tears. I thought that I had come so far, but here I was back where my family's welfare checks had originated."