The Senate Source

August 2012

Graduate Student Support Ailing, Says Task Force

UC must increase graduate student stipends and eliminate nonresident supplemental tuition (NRST) for academic graduate students to the maximum extent possible, says a report authored by the Academic Senate’s Task Force on Competitiveness in Graduate Student Support (CAGSS).

The CAGSS report is one of two new systemwide reports addressing the competitiveness of UC’s support for graduate students — critical to ensuring that UC continues to attract the best students in the world. The other report—just released—was written by a joint Task Force on Graduate Education Competitiveness that was charged by the Regents a year ago to analyze the same subject. Academic Senate Chair Robert Anderson, who serves on both groups, says the reports have somewhat different perspectives, but agree on several key facts:

“Most UC faculty in programs that offer Ph.D.s would agree that their departments cannot afford to enroll the world's best graduate students,” Anderson says. “And most would rate this problem as among the top three or four most important issues facing the University of California. Attracting top graduate students is a key element in retaining excellent faculty.”

The CAGGS report emphasizes the unintended consequences of charging nonresident tuition to academic graduate students. It recommends eliminating NRST for Ph.D. students or, if that is not possible, reducing the number of years international students must pay NRST; ending the practice of charging NRST to research grants; eliminating the 18-quarter limit on the employment of Graduate Student Instructors and Graduate Student Researchers; and allocating additional resources to fund stipends for academic doctoral student support.

“We hope the report will help the Regents recognize that nonresident tuition for Ph.D. students negatively affects UC’s research and teaching missions, and the state,” says UC Davis Professor Rachael Goodhue, who chairs CAGSS. “These policies handicap the University’s ability to draw from the worldwide pool of outstanding graduate students, who later become outstanding faculty members or who accept jobs in the private sector to the benefit of the state’s economy. We believe the recommendations will have a positive impact on the quality of UC’s graduate programs by increasing our ability to attract and retain the best graduate students in the world.”

Anderson agrees that the main reason departments are unable to adequately support additional nonresident Ph.D. students is the nonresident tuition fee imposed by the University. He says that while CAGSS and the Joint Task Force agree that a problem exists, CAGSS emphasizes the urgency of dealing with the problem, reflecting different perspectives between faculty and administrators. He says administrators have tended to focus on the importance of the revenue generated by nonresident supplemental tuition, while the Senate members on each group have focused on the way NRST distorts admission and graduate support decisions, and how the net revenue raised from NRST amounts to only a few percent of UC’s total graduate student support budget. The net revenue is small because the bulk of the nonresident tuition revenue comes out of UC’s own resources.

“The graduate deans and executive vice chancellors are facing some very difficult times because of budgets,” Anderson says. “They are understandably concerned about anything that has the appearance of costing money, but they may not be as focused as the faculty on the fact that these policies may be harming the quality of our Ph.D. students.”

Anderson also says each campus has the ability to fix the problem. 

“If we collect nonresident supplemental tuition and rebate it to the department, we could effectively abolish it ourselves. But that never happens because the money goes to the EVC, who uses it for other priorities without recognizing that we could use it to fund more international graduate students.”

Anderson says he supports a proposal in the Joint Task Force report to rebate automatically NRST of additional Ph.D. students to any Ph.D. program that increases nonresident student enrollment. “This would not cost the EVC anything,” he says.

In addition to Goodhue, CAGSS includes other faculty and graduate students who serve on the Coordinating Committee on Graduate Affairs (CCGA), the University Committee on Planning and Budget (UCPB), and the University Committee on Research Policy (UCORP). The joint Task Force on Graduate Education Competitiveness is co-chaired by Anderson and UC San Diego Executive Vice Chancellor Suresh Subramani. Anderson is also on the Senate Task Force and Goodhue is a member of the Joint Work Group.

The Senate will participate in a presentation on graduate support competitiveness at an upcoming Regents meeting, probably this November.