What information can Cornell provide about unemployment insurance and other assistance for unfunded students?

Date: March 2021


Dear Ask a Dean,

As discussed in GPSA last week, many departments across the university seem to be facing troubles providing funding for their graduate students next year, including both situations where students need additional time due to the pandemic as well as departments having less money available to cover all of the assistantships they would normally plan for in general. In light of the possibility of many graduate students unexpectedly facing a loss of funding this summer or fall, I wanted to ask if the graduate school had any information about our eligibility (and any advice about applying) for unemployment insurance (UI) or any other federal or state aid programs.

My understanding (and I’m no expert) is that as “full-time students” whom Cornell does not consider employees, we are entirely disqualified from UI of all kinds. I know that the CARES act last year extended Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to many students who previously may not have qualified for UI, and I’m honestly not sure if a grad who had been funded by Cornell for the last several years and is unfunded this summer or fall would qualify for PUA or not. I also know that in general one has to have worked a certain amount of time before qualifying for UI, and my understanding is that any and all time spent as a graduate student at Cornell likely does not count towards this qualifying period (but again, I’d love to know if I’m wrong).

Given that a much larger number of grads are likely facing unexpected and sudden lack of funding this year than in many previous years, any information Cornell can provide about UI, PUA, or any other assistance that unfunded grads may qualify for (SNAP? TANF?) would be extremely helpful. Thank you so much.

Thank you,

Concerned Student


Dear Concerned Student,

First, I’d like to clarify the status of funding available to support graduate students at Cornell.  Cornell has had no overall reduction in the level of central fellowship funding that is available to fields, there are no planned reductions in the number of TA positions offered by the colleges, and we are not anticipating reductions in the amount of research funding associated with faculty grants.  In fact, external research funding brought in by Cornell faculty has actually increased in the past year. 

Doctoral funding at Cornell is managed at the level of graduate field. This allows disciplines to develop funding packages that work best for their students.  Funding patterns vary widely among the laboratory sciences, theoretical sciences, humanities, and social sciences.  Average times to degree completion also differ among the groups. Since March 2020, the Graduate School has been working closely with the Directors of Graduate Studies to ensure they have the flexibility they need to support current students for the duration of their funding commitment and to extend funding for students who have experienced delays due to COVID. Some fields have chosen to reduce or pause admissions for fall 2021 so funding can be redirected to current students.  Without fail, every DGS we’ve spoken is committed to helping her or his students successfully finish their degrees with funding and minimal delay.

To answer your question about unemployment, it’s important to recognize that the New York State Department of Labor determines an individual’s eligibility for unemployment benefits, not Cornell University.  Students are not entirely disqualified from receiving unemployment, and an individual’s student status does not disqualify them from applying or receiving benefits.  However, the challenges that students often face are with the Department of Labor’s eligibility criteria, which require, among other things, that the applicant be ready, willing, and able to work a full-time or other similar part-time position and to maintain and document an adequate job search while receiving unemployment.  The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program allowed many individuals who typically don’t qualify for unemployment benefits under state law to do so, although the eligibility criteria of being ready to work and to maintain a job search are still in place.  The PUA has been extended to September 6, 2021.  Any student who believes they may be eligible for unemployment insurance should apply at Get Unemployment Assistance.  With respect to your questions about SNAP and TANF, those programs are administered by the New York Department of Social Services and have their own eligibility requirements.  Learn more about these programs.

The Graduate School is working closely with fields to monitor and respond to funding needs for students across the university. If any student is unsure about their funding status for 2021 or beyond, they should communicate with their advisor and DGS regarding funding availability.  Graduate students may always contact Jason Kahabka in the Graduate School to discuss funding options at Cornell.  I hope this information helps you feel more confident that you’ll receive the funding you were offered at the time of admission and will find a commitment to solve funding challenges that stem from the disruptions of this past year.



Kathryn J. Boor
Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost for Graduate Education