Dear Dr. Peterson,
The new Graduate Tuition Policy has been public since Spring 2002 and
faculty have made an assessment of the potential impact on research, artistic,
teaching, and graduate education programs. The policy addresses many aspects
of graduate student life and education, not just tuition. Faculty Senators
gathered input on the ramifications of the new Graduate Tuition Policy
and discussed it at several Senate meetings. We summarize here key points
that arose during the discussions. Our objectives are i) to avoid unanticipated
outcomes to the full implementation of the policy, and ii) to make recommendations
to minimize outcomes we consider to be negative.
Concerns with the Graduate Policy
Maintaining diversity and competitiveness
We are concerned that the strong emphasis of the new policy on long-term
external funding for every student will decrease intellectual diversity
by making some programs non-competitive for the best students.
The new Graduate Policy seems to be aimed at developing a standard model.
In this model, a student acts as a TA while taking core graduate courses
and identifying a research advisor. Once the core course work is done,
the student shifts to a full time research-supported position. The student
works on a project proposed and directed by the advisor with funding provided
through the advisor’s grants.
We are concerned about several aspects of this model. Competition for
the best students in many fields, e.g. mathematics, humanities, and social
sciences, requires a support structure that is quite different from this
model. Commitment of support for a minimum of four years is a competitive
requirement. This support is usually given in the form of teaching assistantships.
Broad and extensive exposure to teaching is required for success in finding
a job after the doctorate is awarded, and the requisite experience cannot
be achieved in only two years as a teaching assistant.
In some fields, a doctoral candidate is expected to identify and develop
a program that is quite different from the advisor’s program. As
such, senior Ph.D. students should not be employed within an advisor’s
research program because such employment will not contribute to the student’s
In many departments, graduate students are expected to identify an advisor
and progress into research much more rapidly than the policy encourages.
Many of the best students are frequently identified and recruited by individual
professors directly from undergraduate programs.
The ranking and attractiveness of a department is enhanced by the presence
of intellectual diversity within the department. Rensselaer has focused
on three emerging fields: biotechnology, information technology, and nanotechnology.
However, the university needs to maintain intellectual diversity in order
to be ranked among the top research universities. To maintain the necessary
diversity, many departments maintain a small amount of excellent research
by permitting some students to choose programs with less current visibility
and less funding. Frequently, these students have been supported with
Finally, there is a tradition of self-funding or partial self-funding
in many fields that appears to be ignored by the model.
Impact on research programs
A central theme of concern for faculty in well-funded areas is the term
of a typical research grant (1 to 3 years) compared to the time required
for a Ph.D. Many faculty fear that they will not be able to maintain continuous
funding for an individual student and that the new policy will block support
of that student by alternative methods (e.g. - TA, technologist). Their
response is to hire post-doctoral or other associates rather than take
on students, but the success of Rensselaer as a research university must
ultimately be based on our doctoral graduates.
A second concern for well-funded faculty is the way in which the new tuition
policy affects distribution of money in grant requests. They feel that,
even with the current tuition discount, our average cost per student on
a program is high enough to damage proposal competitiveness. Although
directors or monitors may not act directly on this cost, our sense is
that reviewers do respond directly and indirectly to this cost.
Impact on Masters programs
There is a wide range in the nature and goals of Master’s programs
both from school to school and even within departments.
Faculty at both Hartford and Troy feel that the Lally School continuing
education, MS, and MBA programs will be negatively affected by an increased
tuition rate. Most students in these programs are self-funded or reimbursed
by their companies. Such students and companies regularly assess return
on investment and positioning the cost of Rensselaer programs requires
careful assessment and feedback.
Increased part time tuition has already led to a decrease in enrollment
of working professionals in engineering and science master’s programs.
This appears to be true as well for the full-time “professional
masters” programs, e.g. the M.E. program. These decreases do not
significantly affect teaching loads since the graduate courses will seldom
be eliminated but will merely be taken by fewer students. Full assessment
of the impact on Ph.D. programs will require more time since the lead-time
is longer and the factors in student decisions differ.
Impact on teaching
Senior Ph.D. students have fulfilled important teaching roles. First,
senior students are important for training junior students in specialized
laboratory programs, such as Microelectronics Clean Room – Integrated
Circuits Fabrication Laboratory.
Senior graduate students have also contributed to grading of junior graduate
students. In addition to fulfilling a useful and efficient function, this
can educationally benefit the senior student who wants or needs to improve
mastery of a high-level topic.
1) Set the raising of graduate fellowship endowment and winning of proposals
for fellowships at a high priority.
A specific goal should be to match the ratio of fellowships to research
assistantships within each school at our peer institutions. A substantial
increase in the number of fellowships will address many of the concerns
discussed above. Fellowships attract the best students and give them the
independence they need to develop their own projects and to select advisors
on intellectual attractiveness.
Faculty should be trained and encouraged to develop fellowship resources.
Graduate students should be encouraged and assisted in applying for fellowships.
Staff in the offices of Alumni Relations; Government and Community Relations;
Institute Advancement; and the Vice President for Research should be trained
to identify and develop fellowship resources for all programs, including
those that do not have traditions of funding graduate students.
? Enhance fellowships by cost-sharing of tuition.
Cost sharing increases our competitiveness for fellowship funds and provides
incentives to faculty.
2) Make longer offers where this is necessary to compete for students.
All programs require four-year or “until completion” offers
in order to compete with peer and aspirant programs. These longer offers
might include different components (TA, RA, fellowship), consistent with
the needs of the student, availability of funds, and the needs of the
Due to traditions of funding and professional expectations in some fields
it may be necessary to offer teaching assistantships for longer than the
current four-semester limit. The total number of teaching assistantships
should of course be consistent with needs and budget limitations.
3) Enhance flexibility by allowing departments or schools to meet the
four-semester support time limit “in aggregate.”
This would permit departments and faculty who are closest to programs
to decide how to best allocate resources to improve the department’s
ranking and competitiveness. This could be used to provide an incentive
to departments or schools that move students into research more rapidly.
4) Allow carefully controlled splitting of TA and RA support within a
semester and between semesters for individual students.
We note that the administration has criticized some past situations regarding
student aid. When funding is divided between a TA and RA within a single
semester, a review by the Dean of Graduate Education can avoid those few
cases where this criticism might be made.
5) Report to the Faculty Senate an assessment of the impact of the Graduate
Policy program-by-program in Spring 2003, including an overview of the
types of exceptions made.
This study should also address the effect of discounts and fellowship
support provided by rival schools.
We understand that an assessment is already planned, but want to emphasize
aspects of this assessment that would be most meaningful to the faculty.
6) Faculty shall be allowed to make RA offers that cover less than twelve
months. Accordingly, offers may cover (i) only one semester, (ii) only
two semesters, (iii) only summer, or (iv) two semesters and summer.
Respectfully submitted by the Faculty Senate 19 Nov. 2002.
Revised 23 January 2003.