Graduates in demand

By Nicole Santa Cruz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 10, 2005

Graduate students provide brainpower for research activities

Graduate students are "key" for enrollment because they provide brainpower for the university and help the UA financially by aiding in research needed to receive grants, officials said.

Changes in enrollment are expected to increase the number of graduate and professional students from 6,850 to 10,000 in the next five years, said Peggy Ota, vice president of Enrollment Management, in an Oct. 26 Arizona Daily Wildcat article.

While the addition of these students is thought to bring the university more prestige, they also bring in more money than undergraduates, though it's an indirect relationship.

Graduate students help the university by providing an important part of the research workforce for grants, and serve as role models for undergraduates to look up to, said Leslie Tolbert, interim dean of the Graduate College.

Last year, grants and contract revenues brought in $419 million to the university, Tolbert said.

"Graduate students are very much a part of the fabric of the university as a whole," Tolbert said.

Tolbert explained the concept of overhead return, or indirect costs, which is a percentage of the grant dollars negotiated by the university with federal agencies that provide support for the university infrastructure needed to do research.

The indirect dollar percentage is negotiated every couple of years, with the rate currently at 51.5 percent of the grant or award money, Tolbert said.

This money helps the university pay for different costs of research, like putting books in libraries or paying the electricity, Tolbert said.

"We'd be a smaller place if we didn't have the research grants bringing in the indirect dollars," Tolbert said, "and graduate students are an important part of the equation that helps us be competitive for those research dollars."

Graduate and professional students don't really raise money for the university, but increasing the number of graduate students indirectly means increasing research dollars for the university, said Neal Armstrong, a professor of chemistry who works closely with research graduate students.

Besides impacting undergraduates for the better, universities have become increasingly dependent on the money generated from research grants, Armstrong said.

Usually if there are a lot of graduate students in a research college or department, it's a sign the department has been successful in generating funding to support those people, Armstrong said.

In 2002, the university attracted more than $285.1 million in grants and awards from research, which supported more than 1,400 student positions, according to the UA Research Expenditures report.

"It's critical that we get the best graduate students that we can to come to the University of Arizona because not only does our research program depend on them, but our teaching program is essentially affected by them," Armstrong said.

When the university has top-rate graduate students, undergraduates benefit from having a graduate teaching assistant who is knowledgeable, Tolbert said.

"Some of the best graduate students that I have had in my group in the past 30 years have also been some of the best teaching assistants for the chemistry department," Armstrong said.

Generally, 85 percent of a grant goes to salaries of teaching assistant graduate students, which has an immediate positive impact on Tucson, Armstrong said.

President Peter Likins said although graduate students can bring in more research grants, they are valued not for their monetary worth but for being "partners in our scholarly agenda."

"They are precious to us not because they bring in money," Likins said. "That's an incidental benefit of graduate students in certain fields but not in other fields."