Faculty Senate > Minutes January 23, 2002 - APPENDIX
 

Details of Graduate Tuition Discussion
Faculty Senate Meeting - January 23, 2002


It was found that Rensselaer's average PhD takes somewhere between 6.4 and 7.4 years. This information was gathered from the Art & Science (A&S) commissioned panel study, as well as data from NSF. All other schools studied varied between 4.5 and a maximum of 5.5 years to PhD completion. Our MS degree averages 2.4 years, whereas many of the schools we compare ourselves with, are at just over one year. Another problem the A&S study found is that we support our Graduate Program at a level much higher than our peer institutions, (and those institutions that we aspire to be like) with a far greater percentage coming from institute resources as opposed to external funding.

Provost Peterson further explained that these consultants were hired to look at what RPI is doing in terms of graduate tuition, pricing, time to completion, cost of degree to student, cost of research contracts, and cost to the institution. These consultants did a comparative analysis between Rensselaer, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, MIT, Cal Tech and Stanford. Provosts at all those institutions were contacted and we received help as to formulating some of the questions that should be asked, so that "good" data would be obtained. The A&S data was the result of a survey that the consultant conducted of all six institutions.

Jack Mahoney, Director of Institutional Research, clarified for the faculty that the 7.4 years figure was derived from a 1999 NSF survey of our doctorates, versus the 6.4 years, which was done of individuals graduating from Rensselaer between July 1, 1999 and June 30, 2000.

Rensselaer has 1500 full time graduate students; 380 to 400 of which are RAs. We have more TAs than RAs. The schools we want to be like typically have a ratio of 3 RAs to 1 TA. We are supporting most of our graduate program on institute funds, and a large number of full-time graduate students are paying their own way. We support only 38% of our PhD students on campus. However, compared to schools we want to be like, we have an inordinately large number of masters versus PhD students. Of Rensselaer's $45M dollar research portfolio, only $2.4 million dollars goes toward graduate tuition. There are 350 students who pay no tuition. These people have paid tuition for their first 90 tuition credit hours, then they suddenly become much cheaper, and they stay here for a very long time. The data we received shows that all the other comparison schools' graduate students continue to pay full-time tuition while they are on campus, and they do not have a "degree completion" period. (Some faculty disagreed with this data.)

(Slides with this data not available due to confidentiality agreements.)

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We charge by the credit hour. Most other schools that we want to emulate charge by the year. Stipends from other schools are mostly in the upper teens; ours are low. Most tie their tuition into their undergraduate rate, and we propose doing that as well. The committee has proposed several scenarios to the President that cover a broad range of issues, including the cost sharing, tuition, guidelines on time of completion, who should be eligible for a TA and for how long, etc., and compared the results of these scenarios with the current practices of other institutions.

We've gone through and gathered data on the 1,862 graduate students here in Troy in the 5th week, and the average course load is 13.6 credits per year and the average tuition these students pay is about $9,500 per year. We are trying to figure out how we can adjust these things to still remain competitive. We're trying to use the same approach for graduate tuition that we have done for undergraduate, as we have a good model for undergraduate tuition.

It was discussed whether the model also calculated that a shortened student projectory would increase the teaching burden on regular faculty. Some TAs now have full-course responsibilities. The Provost said the model was still in development and whether this was taken into consideration, he wasn't sure. However, he made clear that the institute is moving away from TAs having total course responsibility. We need to define "responsible charge" so we can identify what it means when a graduate student teaches a class. "We will not have graduate students in total responsible charge of a class. There must be a certain amount of oversight from the faculty." We also have some special situations, particularly in Management, where people have lots of career experience and come back to teach, while pursuing their PhD. This issue is being addressed.

In terms of cost sharing, we've made proposals to the President on a number of different issues and we have several different scenarios. Art Sanderson is looking at what the impact of those scenarios will be on the graduate student population, and the cost to grant. The finance people are looking at it, as what is the impact in terms of finances.

The committee has looked at "where are we in comparison to our peer institutions?" and "where is it that we ought to be?" [Added later: The committee consists of Tom Apple, Chair and Dean of Graduate Education; Eileen McLoughlin, Budget Director, Finance; Curt Breneman, Faculty Senate Representative; Art Sanderson, Vice President for Research; Bud Baeslack, Dean of Engineering; Bill Jennings, Vice Provost for Professional and Distance Education; David Rainey, Acting Vice President for Rensselaer at Hartford; Teresa Duffy, Dean of Enrollment Management; Jack Mahoney, Director of Enrollment and Institutional Research,; and Sharon Kunkel, Registrar (Randy Norsworthy was also appointed as a Faculty Senate Representative, but resigned due to scheduling conflicts.)] Now the process is how do we get from where we are, to where we ought to be. What is that transition process? We're not going to do something to "kill" the graduate program. The goal is to expand the graduate program and to expand the research volume, and you can't do that without graduate students.

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Concerns were voiced that the recommendations seem risky if implemented the way they are stated, as they seem to leave very little room for "tinkering" or doing it gradually, or allowing some time for back stepping, if something isn't working very well.

Tom Apple stated that a grandfathering process is being considered that will help in the transition and allow some of the changes to come on stream slowly. Also, within some grace period, degree completion will be allowed. The other thing proposed is to keep the committee working during this year and next year to look at what's happening. Of course, there will be many special cases that will arise, and the committee will keep working to address these issues.

It was noted that during committee meetings the step change issue was discussed and overall it was felt that it was a much better approach to take tuition up in one year, rather than take it up a significant percentage over a five year period. Then basically work backwards, in terms of subsidizing, the way we do with the undergraduate tuition.

Curt Breneman wanted to note, that being on the committee, he has been privy to things he hadn't seen before, and "the reasons are real" for these changes. He said we will face a loss of graduate students; it's going to be modeled, we don't know the number exactly, but that will happen. The question is, is that bad? For some programs it will be, so we'll have to titrate things as needed. The committee is working well together, and there is a lot of give and take. Inputs have been given and modifications made. If this continues, we will be able to handle these situations and the special cases that arise. Mentioned in Art's analysis, is that we will run into Corporate funding problems, and we will have to figure out a way to deal with that. They're not as forgiving as the governmental agencies are for changes in amounts of money. Flexibility of the plan is pretty good. As it develops there will be mechanisms for handling situations as they arise. We're not going to shut ourselves out of NIH for example. (Which, if you looked at it in a hard way, you'd think it would happen just by looking at the numbers.)

Having looked at the big picture, and seeing the numbers and the justifications, Curt Breneman's opinion changed from being pretty much against the whole idea to one of acceptance, within the bounds of still continuing to be a devil's advocate. "I see why we are moving in the direction we are moving, and I'm feeling more comfortable about it, having been on the inside of this process, than I would have been had I only 'heard' about it. The reassurance I can give the Faculty Senate is that it seems to be an effective process. The way the process is being executed is better than previous iterations of any kind of planning process that I've been involved in. This is a positive thing, as evidenced by the fact that we are hearing it now, before the trustees vote on it."

A question regarding whether there is more information that Breneman has been "privy" to than what the Faculty Senate will hear, prompted Provost Peterson to interject that these would be the dollar revenues for graduate students, the source of those revenues, how much is fellowship, how much is scholarship, how much income we get from the graduate program, what our expenditures are, and the total costs associated with it.

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Lester Gerhardt added that the essence of this is we need to shorten the time to degree, and this is a mechanism to bring this about. The other item has to do with what he would broadly call "research accounting." The 2.4 million dollars, (or 6%, or very small percentage) mentioned of total research expenditures that is dedicated or seemingly identified with tuition. It is interesting to note that if you look through proposals, as we bill the agencies, (proposals, or grants that come in as a result of proposals) that percentage is significantly higher. We do not bill on average 6% to the agencies for tuition. Proposals invariably go in with at least 9 credits per semester per student, up to 12 credits per semester per student. So those "tuition monies" are currently flowing into the institute. The faculty, because of this protracted time to degree, use that money - not intentionally, nor maliciously - but, we put in nine or ten hours per semester full RA and the student happens not to need that tuition, and the money remains in the budget. That money is used to fund perhaps another part-time RA or another part-time student or undergraduate student, or to buy equipment or whatever. So that money is coming in; it is simply not accounted for properly toward the tuition base. So the 2.4 million dollars is atrocious. But the fact of the matter is, if you look at the billed money called "tuition" it's significantly higher, and I think we need to do a better job, regardless what the time to degree is, in identifying that money as it comes into the institute and attributing it to tuition costs.

Provost Peterson responded that we do have a lot of research contracts where this happens. One of the things that happened a year ago is that a tuition cost sharing program was instituted where one-third was given to interdisciplinary and one-quarter for single PI grants. This commitment the institute makes is only for the actual expenditures. So up front we make a commitment on the projected graduate student support and what we are finding now is what people say they are going to spend on graduate students is different from the reality. But we have a cost-sharing commitment that we have made and we are obligated to fulfill, and that is causing a bit of a problem now.

It was noted that Rensselaer's greater reliance on TAs than the comparison schools may create other adjustment problems during the transition; specifically, more faculty staffing may be required to replace the student resources lost. It was generally agreed that full course responsibility for grad students is undesirable, but that significant teaching experience, supervised, is an important element for the market competitiveness of new PhD's for academic positions in many fields.

Tom Apple presented the Lombardi study, which is produced by the Univ. of Florida, and it is their analysis that tries to contrast the US News & World Report analysis. The National Research Council comes out with their evaluation of programs every 10 to 12 years. The US News & World Report comes out, but they don't account for all of the information. However, they at least tell us how they rank programs and that is helpful. But in this Lombardi study we have pulled out some comparable institutions and some important data. Jack Mahoney actually pulled this together for us to try to look at "what does that study say we are doing in terms of our graduate program, compared to some institutions that we might consider to be our peers."

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(Lombardi study)

Apple pointed out from the study that if you ratio numbers, like Cornell maybe, because they have ten times the research funding and five times the PhD's; we have twice the ratio of funding to PhD's. But if we look at Carnegie Mellon, they have about 350% the funding we have, and 66% more PhD's, so we actually have a far larger PhD cohort than this number will allow us. We have a 2:1 ratio PhD students, post-doc, and in other schools it might be 1:1 or even smaller, though medical schools may be factored in here which could change the equation. We're supporting more PhD students than our funding really allows. Is that good or bad? It may be good, but then we don't have the infrastructure (i.e., libraries, instrumentation, space, set-up packages, faculty hires, technicians, etc.) to support it.

Note was made that at least in Engineering, one needs to be careful with this data. We need to be aware that all schools that we are considering our "peers" and our "competitors" and so on, by and large have a very large base of research people infrastructure. They have non-tenure track faculty, research faculty, research staff, and these large numbers that they produce in terms of usage or expenditures of the dollars they have, are expended by a large base, not solely by faculty. We really don't have this, we do it by our fingernails, hanging on so to speak.

In concluding remarks it was reiterated that the committee will stay active, as there will be probably 200-300 special cases regarding TAs and "how do we divvy up" when there are fractional RAs and TAs given out. We need to make sure that there is a safety net and a smooth transition, we are "not going to dump anyone out in the street." There is a variety of issues, cost-sharing, waivers, or partial-waivers and many other scenarios that we've discussed, but we're confident (the committee) that we are going to end up with resolutions for these issues both in the transition process and in the longer term.