Published: Oct. 17, 2019

Graduate School Dean Scott Adler and Executive Vice Provost for Academic Resource Management Ann Schmiesing have wrapped up their initial phase for addressing considerations presented in the Graduate Task Force on Stipends and Benefits final report. Schmiesing acknowledged receipt of the report on Sept. 16 and indicated that the campus’s focus for the fall would be on fees.

Graduate School Dean Scott Adler

Graduate School Dean Scott Adler

Executive Vice Provost for Academic Resource Management Ann Schmiesing

Executive Vice Provost for Academic Resource Management Ann Schmiesing

To date, Adler and Schmiesing have engaged in numerous discussions about the task force’s recommendations with stakeholders on the CU Boulder campus, including the United Government of Graduate Students (UGGS), the Boulder Faculty Assembly Budget and Planning Committee, the Academic Affairs Budget Advisory Committee and the Graduate School Executive Advisory Council, in addition to deans, chairs and directors. 

The task force report included detailed information on recent investments the university has made in graduate student compensation packages, including the more than $8 million in annual funding to increase base stipend rates, an increase in the subsidy to the student gold health insurance plan from 70% to 91%, the provision of RTD transit passes to graduate students on summer appointments and the elimination of the athletic fee for graduate students. The task force report also included comparison data with CU Boulder’s Association of American Universities (AAU) public peers.

CU Boulder Today posed the following questions to Adler and Schmiesing on the progress of the task force’s fee recommendations and related graduate student issues.

What is the timeline for determining the feasibility of the task force’s recommendations concerning mandatory fees?

Our next step is to consider the feedback from our meetings with campus stakeholders, along with the task force's recommendations, and incorporate them—to the extent feasible—into this fall’s planning process for next year's budget. Throughout the fall semester, we will keep the campus community apprised of our progress.

Why can’t mandatory fees be immediately waived or remitted for graduate students on appointment?

The current budget, which includes a 6.2% increase to graduate student stipends, has been committed for this academic year. Any changes to mandatory fees, including a recommendation for either a fee reduction or a fee remission, requires Board of Regents approval, which occurs in the spring of each year. At this time, the campus is focused on developing the budget plan for next year.  

The task force report acknowledges that implementing the task force committee’s recommendations depends on budget availability. An issue that came to light during the public comment period and in our subsequent discussions with stakeholders is that approximately one-third of graduate student funding currently comes from research grants, whose budgets are often determined years in advance.

Why does the university recognize graduate students on appointment as first and foremost students? 

While we acknowledge and embrace the many roles that graduate students play on campus, the relationship between student and university is primarily educational. Our graduate students come to CU to study, do original research and receive training and mentorship, enabling them to transition from students to scholars and professionals. When students leave CU with their graduate degrees, they are prepared to become the next generation of scholars, teachers, researchers, scientists and artists. 

Do CU Boulder faculty and staff pay mandatory fees when they use the tuition benefit?

Yes. Faculty and staff pay mandatory fees when using the CU Boulder tuition benefit to take classes.

What is the current hourly wage and tuition coverage for graduate students on appointment?

The AY 2019–20 campus base rate wage for graduate students on appointment is $29.18 per hour. Every student on an appointment—those working as graduate teaching assistants, graduate part time instructors, graduate research assistants and graduate assistants—above 6 hours a week, receives some amount of tuition coverage as part of their compensation package. More than 80% of our graduate students on appointment receive full coverage of their tuition.

What is the Graduate School doing to improve the experience of graduate students?

The Graduate School is committed to providing a holistic and welcoming experience. We want our students to thrive, succeed and feel included during their time at CU Boulder. In recent years, we’ve made significant enhancements to the graduate student experience and will continue to do so.

This fall, we are following up on the task force report’s mention of the need to reinforce workload norms for graduate students on appointment, not only to determine if there are any workload inequities, but also because reinforcing these norms could positively impact graduate students’ ability to proceed through their degree program in a timely fashion. 

Finally, we’ve recently formed a committee of faculty, students and staff to develop a strategic plan for envisioning the future of graduate education at CU Boulder. We will keep the campus community apprised of our progress.