Waivers a reality unless UA has 'financial disaster'
The UA will fully waive graduate teaching and research assistants' tuition beginning in 2006-2007 unless the university suffers serious financial setbacks, a senior official who oversees graduate student affairs said Friday.
The full waivers would be preceded by annual increases from the 50 percent waiver all graduate assistants receive now, said Richard Powell, vice president of research, graduate studies and economic development.
President Peter Likins said last week that graduate assistants will receive 60 percent waivers next year. In 2005-2006, those will rise to 80 percent.
"I think it will happen, barring any financial disaster that comes along," Powell said.
The tuition waivers essentially act as pay raises for graduate assistants, who earn stipends ranging from around $8,000 to $19,000, if they work half time. This year, however, they had to pay back about $1,900 in tuition costs.
Tuition will likely rise annually, offsetting part of those pay raises. But the increased waivers would mean graduate assistants in the 2006-2007 school year would earn about $1,700 more than they will next year if tuition remains the same.
The move will also make the UA the 13th out of the 15 universities in its peer group to offer full tuition remission to graduate assistants.
"It is a relief," said Jani Radebaugh, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council. "I think it's a relief for everyone."
The university would have to pay $4.8 million to cover the costs of 100 percent waivers if they took effect next year, but that number will likely rise as tuition goes up, Powell said.
That figure includes waivers for research assistants, though their salaries and tuition are generally paid through research grants and contracts. The university will only have to cover their increased waivers if they aren't already written into the grants, Powell said.
The announcement marks the end of a years-long struggle to find ways to fund tuition remission, which has been at the forefront of the graduate student council's agenda for several years.
Graduate leaders had characterized teaching and research assistants as important players in the university's academic environment, saying they teach about 25 percent of the classes and conduct a large portion of its research.
Administrators say they agree, and Radebaugh has praised Likins, Powell and others for their support.
"Now it's just this open dialogue between the administrators and the students who are concerned," she said.
A few years ago, graduate student tuition wasn't waived at all, but that number has gradually risen to 25 percent, then 50 percent this year.
Graduate students in recent weeks had petitioned administrators to approve the full waivers. By mid-March, more than 250 people signed a statement forwarded to Likins and others calling graduate students a critical factor in the university's academic environment and asking for the waivers.
"I came here and I was somewhat surprised that I had to pay tuition," said Thomas Kinney, a graduate student in the English department who has been a leader in the drive for remission.
Kinney, who came to the UA from Texas, said larger waivers will help keep debt down for graduate students, many of whom spend more time in school as graduates than they do as undergraduates.