Grad assistant stipends drop as tuition climbs

Kelly Hildebrandt

Graduate assistant stipends are decreasing as tuition increases, Christine Maziar told the Board of Regents on Thursday at their monthly meeting.
The Graduate School must stop the decreasing graduate assistant stipends, which makes the Graduate School less competitive, said Maziar, vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School.
A stipend is the amount of money a graduate student is allotted for an assistantship. This stipend helps pay for tuition, health care and provides an allotment of surplus cash. The decreases affect the 3,700 graduate assistants paid to teach at the University.
“Fewer students are choosing graduate studies at the University of Minnesota,” said Maziar, citing this as the reason assistantships at the University have decreased.
Although other schools have weathered significant drops in assistantships, Maziar said the University’s decline is more significant. Since 1993, teaching assistantships dropped 16 percent at the University compared to an average of 3 percent at other Big Ten schools.
Currently, the Graduate School’s stipend scale is ninth in a comparison with other Big Ten schools, according to a study done by the Office of Planning and Analysis.
“Thank God for Indiana,” Maziar said. “They’re 10th.”
It will cost up to $2.3 million to close this gap, Maziar said.
Maziar acknowledged there were components that were not considered in the University’s ranking among the Big Ten schools, including departmental and cost-of-living expenses.
The stipend costs are covered through college and departmental budgets for teaching assistants. Research assistants are supported by research contracts and grants.
Regents Chairman William Hogan II suggested the board look “out of the box” while searching for alternative options for increasing the stipends.
The simplest way to raise stipends is to give additional funding to departments, Maziar said. However, this raise would not increase research assistant stipends, which are supported through grants.
Another possibility is an increase in the floor stipend — the lowest stipend available — giving the greatest portion of additional money to the poorest students, Maziar said.
Regent Michael O’Keefe suggested an increase in the cash stipend or a reduction in benefits.
“We’re not competitive,” he said of the University’s stipend amounts compared to other Big Ten universities.
“We have just barely scratched the surface,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Robert Bruininks, referring to alternative approaches to decreasing stipends.
Bruininks used the Carlson School of Management as an example, which offers paid internships with businesses in Minneapolis.
Discussion about the Graduate School’s compensation and benefits will be continued at the next Board of Regents meeting.