Graduate Student COVID-19 Survey Results
In April and May of 2020, the Graduate Division conducted a survey of graduate students to assess our graduate community’s concerns surrounding financial distress, housing, mental health, academic progress, and fall 2020 plans.
We heard you: your needs are compelling and urgent. Our plan is to use the data collected from this survey to inform campus leadership about graduate student concerns, to recommend policy and programmatic changes, and to target our financial and staff resources most effectively.
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Of the 11,477 students surveyed, 2,455 (21%) completed the survey. Below is a high-level summary of our findings as well as suggested resources, where appropriate.
As a whole, underrepresented minority students were significantly more likely to express concern and distress related to housing, basic needs, and academic progress. These results, while not unexpected, have accelerated the Graduate Division’s advocacy efforts on behalf of these students.
Basic Needs and Housing
Many graduate students expressed concern over their ability to pay for housing during the COVID-19 crisis. Underrepresented students and international students were particularly distressed, with around half stating that they were concerned or very concerned.
Underrepresented students also were significantly more likely than non-URM students (42% vs. 30%) to state that they were concerned or very concerned about their ability to pay for food, medical expenses, or other basic needs during this crisis.
We will share this data with the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office, the Berkeley International Office, the Basic Needs Center, and other campus units who support housing, rental, and basic needs assistance to help inform funding and awarding strategies. Additionally, this data can be used to highlight fundraising efforts for the UC Berkeley COVID-19 Relief Fund.
If you need financial assistance related to COVID-19, please apply for one of the university’s relief funds through this online portal.
Impact of Distance Learning
Many students reported that social distance learning is having a moderate or severe impact on their mental health and well-being (70%), and their academic progress to their degree (80%). Again, URM respondents reported higher rates of both mental health impacts (82%) and academic progress concerns (89%). Career prospects and research delays were the greatest sources of stress.
We are working to protect our graduate research mission and our students and faculty. In anticipation of and response to these concerns, we have increased our summer block grant funding and extended normative time by one year (previously one semester) so that doctoral students can complete their research and enter the job market one year later, if desired. We have also submitted a request to the UC Office of the President to extend Nonresident Supplemental Tuition (NRST) waivers by a year for international students. We will inform our graduate student, staff, and faculty community when we receive a response.
We know that this will not resolve all the challenges that you are facing, and we are working to identify what else we can do. While the disruption continues, your well-being is of primary concern to us. We encourage anyone who feels they would benefit to contact University Health Services to schedule a counseling or healthcare appointment. If you would like to talk through various resources for academic accommodations, please schedule a 15-minute appointment with Graduate Student Life Director Larissa Charnsangavej.
For a current list of academic accommodations, visit the Graduate Division’s COVID-19 information hub.
Fall 2020 Plans
When asked about plans for re-enrolling at UC Berkeley for the fall 2020 semester, 77% of respondents affirmed that they plan to return to campus regardless of whether or not normal operations resume. However, 9% indicated that they would return to campus only under normal operations. An additional 11% responded that they do not plan to (or are not sure if they will) re-enroll in the fall term (see reasons listed in graph).
Related to this concern, we wanted to reiterate the message shared at our Graduate Student Town Hall: We understand that uncertainty is difficult and we will do our best to communicate information as we make decisions. Our campus operations will progress as a phased movement toward allowing more people to be on campus, driven by our capacity to have a robust testing regime in place, clean our facilities, protect our students and workforce, and remain in compliance with the requirements and expectations of public health authorities. The Chancellor has formed a set of committees to provide recommendations on university operations and is committed to having an answer for our campus community by June 15, 2020.
If you are a current graduate student and would like to withdraw for the fall semester, you may withdraw without your department’s approval. You should discuss your plans with your department advisors because students do need departmental approval to re-enroll. There may be other considerations that need to be taken into account as well, including impacts on visas, fellowships, and other funding.
We thank our graduate students for representing the very best of Berkeley, particularly in these incredibly challenging times. If you have questions about survey results, please email Sara Quigley at firstname.lastname@example.org.