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Campus task force re-evaluates graduate fee waiver policy

Wednesday, April 2, 2008 | 7:46 p.m. CDT; updated 1:08 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Scott Owen, a quarter-time graduate teaching assistant in the business department, said cutting tuition waivers for graduate teaching assistants would hurt MU's ability to attract top students.

COLUMBIA — Members of a provost-appointed task force are discussing policy changes that could reduce financial support for MU graduate students, which some students say could hurt MU’s ability to attract and retain students.

Bill Lamberson, professor of Animal Sciences and a task force member, said it’s possible the group will recommend that graduate students who receive some types of assistantships would have to pay half of their tuition instead of receiving a full waiver.

The group has also discussed putting a limit on the number of semesters that students could receive support, he said.

Another possibility the task force has discussed is re-evaluating waivers for students who don’t work in the classroom, such as those who work in the counseling center.

The 15-member task force includes students, faculty members and campus administrators. The group has met twice and is expected to make a recommendation to Provost Brian Foster in May.

The re-evaluation of graduate student support is part of a greater examination to see where MU can cut costs.

“It is because of the budget, and I believe there are multiple task forces on campus dealing with different issues related to the budget,” said Disraelly Cruz, president of the Graduate Student Association and a member of the task force.

Many academic departments offer graduate students either quarter-time or half-time assistantships, which require 10 and 20 hours of work per week, respectively. Under the current fee waiver policy, both assistantships come with a complete waive of tuition when offered to students. According to Graduate School Dean Pamela Benoit, a total of 2,517 MU graduate students received support in the form of an assistantship in the fall 2007 semester.

Benoit said funding for retaining and providing higher salaries for top faculty is one of MU’s main budgetary concerns.

The two graduate students on the task force, Jennifer Holland and Cruz, have discussed the importance of fee waivers with their peers.

With less support, “it becomes difficult to attract new competitive students, especially international students, which is a concern that one (student) brought up,” Cruz said.

Holland, who represents fellow graduate students as president of the Graduate Professional Council, said many students she’s talked with are concerned.

“Many of them would not be here were it not for the fee waiver policy,” she said.

Scott Owen and Ryan Meesey, graduate students pursuing their Master of Business Administration degrees, both have quarter-time teaching assistantships in the school of business.

“The waiver is a big part of why I continued here instead of going to a more highly accredited MBA program,” Meesey said. “Had the waiver not existed, I probably would have pursued a more highly accredited MBA program.”

Owen believes cutting the waivers would hurt MU.

“I think that it’d be a lot harder to attract some of the top students who would go to a different school that has higher ratings (without offering generous waivers),” Owen said. “I think that the higher caliber students come here and help us achieve higher ratings, so it’d hurt the MBA program overall.”

Although a recommendation is expected in May, Benoit and other task force members said that there is no timeline for implementing potential changes.

“We’re attempting to be very comprehensive about this issue,” Holland said.


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Comments

Steve Richardson April 3, 2008 | 10:02 a.m.

I believe the challenges our University faces are profound. One of those challenges is of course the need to address faculty salaries at all levels. As a graduate and as a donor to the University, I believe having the best faculty allows us to attract not only the best possible undergraduates but the very best graduate students. Graduate students are key contributors to any university. They teach, advise and participate in the advancement of knowledge by conducting research.

It would be very interesting to understand how our peers in the Big 12 and the AAU treat graduate student tuition. I trust the Provost and this committee will be prudent in their recommendations before they in affect, steer potential graduate students to other institutions. We should always strive to attract the best students and the best faculty but we should recognize that decisions of this magnitude must be made while considering the assistance given to graduate students at other institutions of higher learning.

It is my hope that we will find ways to attract the very best graduate students possible while also addressing the salary needs of the University's faculty.

(Report Comment)
Kevin O'Connor April 3, 2008 | 3:13 p.m.

Is Ryan Meesey's statement about accreditation accurate? As far as I can tell, the Crosby MBA program is accredited by the AACSB, which seems to be the most exclusive accrediting organization. I do not think that tuition waivers should be taken away from graduate students with assistantships, but it seems that Ryan Meesey's comments about finding a more highly accredited program are inaccurate. Some of the only leverage a lowly graduate student has in this situation is to threaten discontinuing enrollment. However, these may be empty threats since many of the more highly ranked programs are likely less affordable than the Crosby MBA even without a full tuition waiver.

(Report Comment)

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