Important message about Graduate Assistantships


Dear Faculty & Staff,

Thank you for your continuing efforts with respect to our transformation plan. I am grateful for the time you are expending on student recruitment, student retention, and financial stabilization. Your efforts to contain short-term spending and make necessary adjustments are appreciated.

A few members of the UA family recently reached out to me to express their concerns and seek clarification about graduate assistantships. Accordingly, I felt it appropriate to respond broadly, as others may have similar questions. My apologies for the length of this letter, but this important topic deserves our full consideration.

First, it is encouraging to see the collective efforts and shared governance exhibited across campus with respect to the difficult, but necessary, graduate assistantship adjustments. The Graduate Council, Faculty Senate, departments, colleges, and administration have spent significant time and effort considering this necessary component of our transformation plan. Thank you to everyone who has participated in these efforts.

Second, it is critical that we move forward together with the implementation of the Graduate Council proposal that was subsequently approved by the Faculty Senate. I appreciate the concerns surrounding adjustments to our traditional approach. However, this adjustment is necessary as we look to sustain our operations and continue providing a quality education to all of our students.

Third, within the next few days, we will inform graduate students who have sufficient credits to graduate from their respective programs that they will no longer be eligible to receive tuition remission and/or stipends. A very limited number of exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis, but if the student surpasses the credit requirements for his/her degree by or after the end of this summer, tuition remission and/or stipends will no longer be available. We need students to graduate both so that they can pursue careers and so that we can receive the associated subsidy formula benefit from the State of Ohio. Naturally, if a student chooses to take extra courses, that student can pay to do so.

Finally, I wanted to share several observations and thoughts with you based on the various concerns expressed to me. Please note that my goal is to reinforce our financial foundation while avoiding another round of involuntary layoffs. I have and will continue to expend significant energy and efforts to help us overcome our challenges and thrive going forward. Keep in mind that in just the past five years, our student enrollment has contracted nearly 25%. We need to make a corresponding shift either through increased revenues or decreased expenses. Unfortunately, the past couple of years accelerated our challenges.

Our operating deficit and minimal reserves require an immediate solution. Many of us have worked on the details and fleshed out possible options and concrete solutions. The strategic graduate assistantship recommendation passed by the Faculty Senate was formulated and unanimously passed by the Graduate Council – the elected executive committee of the graduate faculty. This is a partial solution to our budgetary challenges. The Graduate Council based its recommendation on solid data, comparative indicators, financial necessity, and other factors. These recommendations were adopted by the Faculty Senate.

Failure to act in the area of graduate assistantships will increase the likelihood of another round of significant involuntary reductions in force. Such reductions would directly impact faculty, faculty support, research, and our students, and potentially bring great harm to the institution from a reputational, recruiting, and quality standpoint.

The recommendations do not harm current students. Rather, the proposal 1) brings our graduate assistantships more in line with other area peer institutions (e.g. CSU, Ohio U., U. of Cincinnati, and Wright State), 2) responds to recent changes in the SSI formula focusing on graduation, and 3) moves UA away from the practice of using general funds (i.e. other students’ tuition dollars) to heavily or entirely subsidize industrial/community and research assistantships.

The recommendations do not harm teaching. Reducing funding for graduate assistantships does not mean the elimination of teaching assistants. Graduate students who serve as teaching assistants can still be paid for their efforts while gaining valuable experience in the lab/classroom. This experience enables students to prepare for future careers.

We will continue to heavily invest resources in the area of research. Neighboring institutions spend far less on their graduate assistantship programs yet they function as research universities.

If we have quality programs with pathways to future employment, prospective students should invest in themselves by taking our courses and seeking our degrees. Quality education attracts students willing to pay for their education. If a program cannot attract students unless we provide a full scholarship and stipend, its faculty should discuss steps to market and make the program more attractive to prospective students.

Strategic adjustments to graduate assistantships will not reduce the quality of our undergraduate programs. The same services provided by graduate assistants might be obtainable through different arrangements, such as part-time faculty or permanent full-time hires – at a significantly reduced cost.

Some individuals have speculated that tuition remission is a spreadsheet exercise. This is simply not the case. Giving away education in the form of tuition remission costs the university money. Every graduate student comes with an administrative cost and an academic cost, and state subsidy does not adequately cover these costs. If it did, we could charge zero tuition to all undergraduates as well, which is obviously not reasonable. On the administrative side, services across campus are provided to our graduate assistants. In addition to operating costs, we have maintenance costs and physical facilities costs. On the academic side, there are teaching costs, lab costs, mentoring costs, and others. Requiring more graduate students to pay their tuition/fees is not unreasonable and will help the university rebound and thrive.

Another suggestion has been that cuts to extracurricular programs correspond with adjustments to the graduate assistantships. This ignores the fact that our funding of graduate assistantships for master’s programs is inconsistent with our peer institutions, while operational funding of extracurricular activities (such as athletics) is consistent with, if not lower than, our peers. Yes, adjustments will be made in those areas as well, to the extent possible, but our funding of graduate assistantships must align closer to the current practices and standards in higher education.

In terms of timing, please understand that decisions must be made now to provide adequate notice to current students, prospective students, and departments seeking to recruit students into our graduate programs. Continued delay would harm our ability to recruit quality graduate students for the upcoming year. Failure to collectively act now in this area stands to destabilize the university, and will lead to negative consequences including, among other things, the diminishment of the goodwill and positive momentum built over the past seven months.

Although I could go on even longer, I want to reiterate that the failure to implement significant changes in terms of graduate assistantships will necessitate significant cuts in other areas. The Graduate Council proposal is a roadmap to strategic decision making and demonstrates shared governance and faculty/administration cooperation in the best interests of the University.

Thank you for your time, efforts, and consideration in this regard.


President's signatureMatthew J. Wilson
The University of Akron