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Grad support improvements set

By Clifton B. Parker on February 17, 2006 in University

The administration and Academic Senate are agreed on this: Progress is being made on increasing graduate student support.

The biggest advance recently is Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw's decision to allocate $2.5 million in 2006-07 to cut by 25 percent the cost of fees and tuition for graduate student researchers paid with external or nonuniversity funds.

"This new buy-down program is in direct response to strong concerns voiced by the faculty regarding the increasing cost of supporting graduate students on research grants," said Hinshaw, who consulted extensively on this issue with the Graduate Council and other senate committees, and with deans.

Graduate Council Chair Andy Water-house, a professor of viticulture and enology, said the provost "is being very responsive to the wishes of the faculty, in particular the Representative Assembly's fall resolution."

And while noting that the senate would like to see nonresident graduate tuition go away completely, he acknowledged that "the provost cannot resolve this — there isn't enough money (at the campus level)."

The solution lies with the Board of Regents, he said, adding that he hopes the regents, president's office and other UC campuses take notice of the "new way" in which the Davis campus is tackling the problem, through the provost's buy-down. "The administration has taken a very visible step," he said, one that shows that "it's not just the faculty" that places a high priority on graduate student support.

Nonresident tuition this year and next is $14,694. Under campus policy, payment does not come from the students but from grant funds, when the students are hired as graduate student researchers. That means less money for research and other educational purposes — which is another reason the senate wants the tuition to go away.

Hinshaw's $2.5 million buy-down would apply equally to nonresidents and resident graduate students.

"This will reduce the costs to faculty grants for graduate student tuition and fee remission by about 25 percent," said Hinshaw, referring to externally funded research.

Tuition applies only to nonresidents, while fees apply to nonresidents and residents. Over three academic quarters, according to the university, the buy-down would amount to a savings of about $6,000 per nonresident graduate student researcher and $2,250 per California-resident GSR paid with extramural research funds.

'Extended effort'

"The administration views this investment as the first step of an extended effort," Hinshaw said. "Graduate student support is one of the very highest priorities of the campus — so we will find ways to further reduce this burden in the future."

The provost's goal "over time" is to put in place a 50 percent buy-down, said Kelly Ratliff, assistant vice chancellor of budget resource management.

Waterhouse said that if more money becomes available, "we need to distribute it so that other (graduate) students on campus benefit, not just graduate student researchers (typically in the sciences and engineering)."

The 2006-07 buy-down program does not include graduate students, say, in the humanities, who may mostly work as teaching assistants.

'Good first step'

Nevertheless, at the Graduate Council, senate members from the humanities disciplines felt that the provost's program for next year "was a good first step toward trying to reduce the cost of supporting students on grant funds," Waterhouse said.

"Graduate students are currently very expensive," he said. The cost keeps some professors from signing up graduate students from abroad.

"Every graduate program should be able to tap into international students," who can be among the "best and the brightest," Waterhouse said.

Some professors bypass graduate students altogether, and make arrangements with post-doctoral researchers instead, said Waterhouse, citing "economic pressure for us not to teach graduate students."

Yet he and others agree that graduate education is essential to the university's mission.

As Graduate Dean Jeff Gibeling put it: "We really need to be in the business of graduate education to produce future scientists, engineers, humanists, artists, innovators — people who will lead the state in all fields. That includes domestic students as well as international students, who add tremendous value in expanding global understanding on our campus."

He added: "The challenge here is to provide competitive levels of graduate student support to enable each of our programs to attract the very best graduate students."

Gibeling said the provost "has demonstrated a strong commitment to responding to that challenge." At the same time, the dean said, the administration continues to try to do more to reduce costs, increase investments and use funds strategically.

Hinshaw already has accomplished a 35 percent increase in graduate student support since 2003-04 — to more than $34 million in 2006-07, including the $2.5 million buy-down. Next year's total includes $10.9 million in regular block grant funding, an increase of $300,000 over this year.

The UC Board of Regents' proposed 2006-07 budget contains additional relief. The proposal calls for eliminating nonresident tuition for graduate students who have advanced to candidacy — meaning that they have completed their coursework and are working on their dissertations.

UC Davis programs alone would save about $1.5 million if the proposal goes through, according to the campus budget office. The savings per graduate student would amount to about $3,700 over three quarters. These reduced costs would enable programs and faculty to stretch their resources to support additional graduate students.

UC senate deliberates

The University of California's entire Academic Senate is preparing to vote on a resolution put forth by the senate's Davis Division, urging the Board of Regents to eliminate nonresident graduate tuition.

In January, Davis senate members voted 873-40 in balloting by mail to approve the resolution, which cites the tuition requirement's adverse impact on graduate student recruitment.

The Davis division sent the resolution to the University Assembly, with delegates from every senate division in the UC system — and the assembly decided Feb. 8 to put the resolution to a vote of all senate members: 15,042 as of March 1, 2005. Senate rules stipulate that mail ballots must go out within 60 days; the senate office as of Tuesday had not established a timeline for the voting.

The Davis senate's resolution declares: "Nonresident graduate tuition is a serious impediment to recruitment of graduate students from outside of the state of California and, most particularly, graduate students from outside the United States."

The resolution further states that "the ability to recruit the best graduate students from around the world is critical to the academic and research excellence of the University of California."

— Dave Jones

Media contact(s)

Clifton B. Parker, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,