Faculty Senate > Graduate Tuition Policy Letter
 

 

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 doctoral research.
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 longer-term TA’s.
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.

Recommendations
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 institute.
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.
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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.

 
June 15, 2004