Why aren’t graduate students eligible for faculty/staff parking permits able to participate in RideShare?

Date: April 2023


Dear Deans,

I was happy to see that some graduate students are eligible to purchase the same parking permits as faculty and staff. Unfortunately, when I inquired about applying for the Cornell RideShare Program with a staff member, I was informed that it was reserved for regular payroll employees with benefits and so I would not be eligible in June. Why aren’t graduate students funded by assistantships considered in this category when we are on payroll and receive health insurance benefits?

I would think that all individuals eligible for the same parking pass should be able to participate in RideShare, provided they meet the requirement of sharing their ride at least three times a week. It doesn’t make much sense to limit the people eligible to participate in a RideShare program if the goals of the university are to promote sustainability and decrease the net number of cars on campus.

“Trying to be green”


Dear “Trying to be Green,”

I appreciate your desire to carpool to campus. It certainly is a good way to both downsize your carbon footprint and also reduce the number of cars on campus. Allow me to offer a two-part response, because I sense that you are both asking for information and perhaps also requesting that the current policy be reconsidered.

Cornell offers an array of benefits and services to both students and employees. Because all benefits have costs associated with them, different funding mechanisms are in place to offset these costs. In general, those who pay for specific benefits are also the recipients of those benefits. For example, benefits that are designed for students are largely funded through tuition and student activity fees. Benefits for faculty and staff are largely paid for through a mechanism called the employee “benefits pool” that is linked to employee payroll. Students with hourly jobs or assistantship appointments don’t contribute to the employee benefits pool. The new permit option for graduate assistants is funded by the sale of the parking permits. The Transportation Office is not able to offer the ride share benefit to students because that program’s funding comes from the employee benefits pool, not from student funding sources. However, it is possible for funding sources and uses to be reviewed and changed if there is significant student demand.

I’d also like to address the issue of how students can advocate for a policy change, like inclusion in the RideShare program. In my view, the “Ask a Dean” feature in Grad Announcements can be a fun and convenient way for students to get information on range of topics. I, and the Graduate School assistant and associate deans, love hearing what is on students’ minds and helping to track down answers to the thoughtful (and sometimes quirky!) questions that come in. But I’ve also heard frustration from students who don’t believe the replies are responsive to the questions, or that the replies lead to any meaningful change. This latter point is true. We generally don’t change policy as a result of individual Ask a Dean inquiries. Historically, the best way for us to understand the priorities of graduate and professional students has been to receive input from the GPSA, University Assembly, and the many standing committees that include graduate student representation.

The Graduate and Professional Community Initiative (GPCI) had an active committee on transportation issues, but has recently struggled to find students who are interested in being involved in this important topic. It would be wonderful to re-energize this work! In future Ask a Dean responses we’ll include more information about the committees and governance bodies that work on each topic that is raised. We hope the information we share is helpful, but if you’d like to advocate for change or learn more about a specific topic we’ll connect you with others who are working in those areas.

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