Some graduate students have to take out loans to pay for their health insurance and other expenses. Elliot Long maxed out his federal direct loans, meaning taking out graduate plus loans was his only option.

For graduate plus loans, applicants must be enrolled in five credit hours, Long said. Long, a doctoral candidate studying interdisciplinary arts, said he is writing his dissertation and no longer has a tuition waiver, causing him to take one credit hour per semester.

“That put me in a bind last semester where I couldn’t pay the $2,700 for my insurance, my son’s insurance and my fees out of my stipend,” Long said. “(I) almost ended up not being able to be enrolled for this semester.”

Graduate students with appointments are ineligible to work more than 20 hours per week, according to university documents. But, that counts for on- or off-campus jobs. If students are caught working off-campus jobs during their assistantships, they can be terminated and responsible for all tuition scholarship charges to their accounts.

Graduate assistants, who must be full-time students, are taking at least 12 credit hours of coursework to be eligible for their position. David Koonce, associate dean for the Graduate College, said graduate students receive a set of guidelines for their appointments when selected.

“With all the out-of-class work expected in graduate coursework, working beyond 20 hours should not be realistic,” Koonce said in an email.

Long, who is co-president for the Graduate Employee Organization, said if OU doesn’t want students violating their requirements to focus on their academic work, students should be adequately paid.

“Whatever your assistantship (pays) is the only money that you have to work with,” Long said. “Unless you’re able to get a job over summer or winter break, and not all departments provide (those) opportunities.”

Maria Funcheon, a master’s student studying sociology, said paying for rent, food and other expenses can be difficult with the minimum annual stipend at OU, which is about $7,200. 

The Graduate Employee Organization, or GEO, released a report Sept. 15 that showed the minimum stipend at OU to be lower than nine of its 10 peer institutions. 

“It’s really difficult to make money for these high graduate fees and insurance,” Funcheon said. “A lot of graduate students don’t get full tuition waivers as well, so it’s difficult to kind of navigate the finances of graduate school.” 

Funcheon said it’s unfair for students to pay up to 85 percent of their income back to the university for health insurance, especially for international students who pay for their family’s plans. GEO launched a campaign Feb. 10 demanding OU to increase health insurance subsidies, according to a previous Post report.

Mohamed Amira, a doctoral student studying global education, said OU’s plan doesn’t cover the cost of major hospitals, which he discovered after paying $8,000 to cover the cost of his family’s insurance. He was forced to pay $1,600 after taking his daughter to OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital for a fever, according to a previous Post report.

Because of their visas making them ineligible for employment outside of the university, international students are in a “tighter bind” being unable to seek outside employment, Long said. 

Koonce said international students on visas are legally restricted from working for more than 20 hours or off campus.

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