Budget cuts hit graduate students from all angles

By Chris Mumford, Staff Writer

Adding to the rigor of an intense curriculum, thesis writing and teaching undergraduate classes, U graduate students must now cope with the strains of shrinking stipends, rising tuition and vanishing teaching assistant positions.

Decreasing Support

Although virtually every U student is feeling the pinch of budget cuts in some way, graduate students are in a particularly vulnerable position because they must commit much more of their time to their studies. The demands of graduate work often limit students’ ability to work part-time jobs, making them more dependent on stipends and TA positions to help defray their high, ever-rising expenses.
Kelli Monson, who is pursuing a master’s degree in accounting, said she struggled with the decision to quit her job in order to study full time. She said Master of Accounting students who take evening classes will see their tuition increase by a total of $1,500 during the next three years, in addition to the per-credit hour increase that all master’s students will pay.

“I tried to get a scholarship, but I heard those were cut as well,” she said. She said that a newsletter issued by the department detailing the cuts had dampened her hopes of receiving aid.

Monson said the difficulty of obtaining financial aid made many of her graduate friends too scared to quit their jobs, leaving them with no other option but to go to school part time, which she said would be more expensive in the long run because of the increases in evening rates.

“You can bear the cost all at the beginning or you can bear it going along,” she said.

The College of Social and BehavioralScience is only covering half of its graduate students’ tuition this semester, as opposed to the full coverage it used to offer. Other graduate programs, such as those in the department of languages and literature, have opted to continue offering fully funded stipends while reducing the overall number of stipends available.

Christine Jones, director of Graduate Studies for Languages and Literature, said her department’s decision to maintain fully funded stipends boiled down to the broad range of graduate programs on offer, each with its own set of unique expenses. Students rack up bills by traveling to regional conferences, and the department feared that without maintaining financial assistance at current levels, students might find the program prohibitively costly and be discouraged from enrolling, she said.

Increasing Tuition

Last spring, to cope with budget cuts, the U Board of Trustees approved increases in tuition for eight colleges for Fall Semester, including the business and law schools.

Students entering the School of Law will see an increase of about $3,400 per academic year. A $2,500 increase per academic year looms for continuing students.

Eldon Beck, a third-year law student, said though he isn’t thrilled about the increase, it pales in comparison to the soaring tuition increases he endured at University of California Davis, where he earned his undergraduate degree. He praised Dean Hiram Chodosh’s aggressive efforts in dealing with the cuts.

“I’ve been impressed with the way our administration has handled it,” he said.

For business school students, tuition went up by $100 per credit hour for master’s students, and $25 per credit hour increases are coming the next two years after that. Professional MBA students will see a $750 per semester base-rate increase, a $1,000 per-semester bump for the year after that and another $750 on top of that in 2011-2012.

“(The tuition increase) was significant, and it’s certainly impacting students and we regret that,” said Scott Schaefer, the business school’s associate dean of academic affairs.

He said his department is determined to preserve the quality of its programs, but the effect of the cuts on faculty recruitment and retention have complicated those efforts.

Temperate Faculty

“We’re less able to compete aggressively at the national level for top faculty,” Schaefer said, adding that the department had intended to hire five new tenured track professors but was only able to hire two for now, with a third who will not be able to join the school until next year because of the cuts.

“That’s unfortunate, we’d have (the third professor) here now if not for the budget cuts,” Schaefer said. “He’ll be a great asset to our school.”

Fewer new faculty members combined with increased enrollment will force existing U faculty to stretch their schedules and accommodate larger classes to meet the demand.

“Some of the slack is being taken up by regular faculty members,” said Graduate School Dean Charles Wight. “They’re being asked to teach more.”

Richard Brown, dean of engineering, said his department’s doctorate program has increased by more than 100 students since 2006. The department was only able to add eight faculty members this year compared with 16 a year ago.

“At the graduate level, if we’re going to keep the course offering, they have to maintain the faculty,” he said, while emphasizing that the quality of engineering programs hasn’t declined despite the challenges.

Maintaining faculty might be challenging in light of the campus-wide hiring freeze, which could tempt some professors to jump ship to a private school or another state where pay is better, Schaefer said.

“It’s going to be a real challenge to keep our best people,” he said.

On a more positive note, David Chapman, Wight’s predecessor, managed to mitigate the impact of the cuts on teaching assistant positions by lobbying senior administrators before leaving office, Wight said. Chapman’s efforts represent a victory at a time when departments have a small set of painful options from which to choose to address the cuts.

“I think students should be aware that these budget cuts that we’ve been going through really cut us right to the bone,” Wight said.

He said there might be more belt-tightening to come, but that he is focused on what can be done to improve the budget situation now.

“We’re keeping the ship going as best we can in a stormy sea,” he said.

[email protected]