Amid concerns of a lack of financial support for graduate students, the University of Minnesota’s Graduate School has plans to boost fellowship funding.
Although school leaders want to increase future fellowship opportunities for its graduate students, some students and faculty members say that could be challenging and the University could provide more resources to help students seek and apply for outside funding.
Fellowships are merit-based aid that typically cover living and educational expenses. Graduate students can receive fellowships from either the University or external organizations.
Fellowships are generally considered the most appealing way to pay for a post-baccalaureate education, said Andrew McNally, a doctoral student and president of the Council of Graduate Students.
He said it’s important that research universities offer competitive fellowships because that ensures they lure the best graduate students.
“The quality of grad students affects … the general reputation of the university, the willingness of high-quality faculty [to come to the university] and the quality of research,” McNally said.
Graduate School Dean Henning Schroeder said the school included plans to address funding for graduate students in its most recent strategic plan because it understands how crucial fellowships are for student researchers.
“Being on a fellowship opposed to being on a research assistantship or teacher’s assistantship gives students the highest degree of freedom to pursue research,” he said.
In response, Schroeder said the school plans to ask the University for additional funding for existing fellowship programs in its budget request this spring.
He said the school wants to double the number of Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowships it offers. But the program, which currently funds about 15 students, is still young and needs more research to show its effectiveness, he said.
The Graduate School also hopes to expand its DOVE Fellowship, which aids underrepresented students, Schroeder said. The program currently supports 20 students, and the school wants to fund at least two more students with it in the coming years, he said.
He also noted that the University has increased funding for the Graduate School’s Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship over the past few years.
While the Graduate School has recognized the need to increase fellowships, McNally said finding the money to fund them can be difficult, noting that it requires fundraising, shifting tuition dollars or asking the state legislature to allocate more money.
Even with additional University funding, Schroeder said students often have to turn to external organizations for fellowship opportunities.
But Scott Lanyon, a professor and ecology, evolution and behavior department head, said the University is not doing enough to make students aware of those opportunities.
“In general, the University of Minnesota has not been active enough in encouraging these students to go after external money,” he said.
Some students are also not prepared to apply for fellowships, Lanyon said.
Many students in the STEM fields, specifically, need help writing fellowship proposals, he said. To help those students polish their applications, Lanyon created a course partly designed to help them land a fellowship.
But because his schedule won’t allow it, Lanyon said he won’t offer the class after this semester.
To fill the void, Lanyon said he’s presented workshops for faculty in other departments and colleges to teach them how to guide their own graduate students through the fellowship application process.
“I have a feeling that as long as I teach this course, no one is going to step up to teach students in their own grad program,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll have made it easier … for grad programs to arrange to do this.”
Though he said he was critical of the University’s past efforts, Lanyon said increasing fellowships and resources to aid graduate students would be a win-win situation.
“It helps the University to show that we are competing with other top universities in the nation,” he said.