Graduate students concerned about long-term plans for tuition coverage

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Holding the sign, Erika Slaymaker, left, Riad Azar, and Kelly Houck lead the march for higher graduate worker’s wages on Wednesday, May 1, 2019.

Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar

Graduate students struggling to pay their tuition are being temporarily assisted by a supplement to their current university aid, but some students are concerned about paying tuition when the supplement is no longer provided after spring 2020. 

Certain graduate students working 20 hours or more as assistants receive $3,784, and students working 10 to 19 hours receive $1,892 from the Tuition Reduction Benefit during the fall and spring, according to the Graduate School website. 

Daina Berry, associate dean for Graduate Education Transformation, said the benefit previously reduced the tuition bill of graduate students to zero. However, Berry said tuition increases have led to a gap between the benefit and remaining tuition costs.

In May, the Graduate Education Task Force recommended reinvesting $10 million provided by Maurie McInnis, executive vice president and provost, into a supplement for these students to address the gap. Berry said the Graduate Education Task Force was formed last spring to determine long-term solutions to problems graduate students are facing, such as the tuition gap.

“We’re hoping one of the recommendations from the task force will be to eliminate the gap (after TRB is applied),” Berry said. “It’s something that we can hopefully make sure that students don’t have to deal with.” 

 

Berry said eligible students will receive the supplement until Sept. 13 for the fall and spring semesters. Future plans will be addressed before the end of December in the task force’s report to the provost, Berry said. 

“We’re looking at all the things that affect grad students,” Berry said. “How can we be supportive so that they have a positive experience here?”

Christina Baze, graduate student assembly president, said the task force needs a long-term plan.

“After (next spring), there’s no more money,” said Baze, a STEM education graduate student. “It’s a one-time fund. It’s not sustainable at all.”

Baze said graduate student stipends also have not risen amid increases in tuititon.

“Compensation to cost of living is, if not the lowest, amongst the lowest in peer institutions,” Baze said.

The task force’s preliminary report recommended changing stipends to be “competitive” with peer institutions.

Patrick Sheehan is an organizer of Underpaid at UT, which advocates for a living wage for graduate students. He said low graduate student stipends are not a new problem.

“People have been screaming about this since the ‘90s,” sociology graduate student Sheehan said. “They just haven’t addressed it.”

Berry said a large issue the task force faced was collecting data on how much students were being paid, as it varies by department. Sheehan said information on graduate student payment is decentralized and therefore difficult to find.

“If they were concerned about our well-being and the work we do at the University, they would have numbers on that,” Sheehan said.

Berry said the task force can only recommend solutions to the provost, and the actions of the provost and Office of Graduate Studies may differ.

“The whole point of the task force was to be supportive and to find ways to make the experience of UT a positive experience,” Berry said. “We’re doing the best that we can as quickly as we can.”