Graduate Student Financial Well Being Considered, New Solutions to be Implemented
At Georgia Tech, students are our top priority. Amid a constantly evolving economic backdrop, Tech has maintained its mantle of being student-centered by making recent efforts and strides to improve graduate student financial health.
Within the past three years, significant changes have been implemented to improve the financial condition of graduate students enrolled at Georgia Tech. At the request of President Cabrera, in 2019, the Executive Vice Presidents of Georgia Tech appointed a working group chaired by the vice provost of Graduate Education and Faculty Development (GEFD) and comprised of a representative from GEFD, representatives from the Finance and Planning Office and from the Office of the Executive Vice President for Research, as well as the Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA) members, representatives from an Institute Faculty governance committee (SAFAC), and other leaders in graduate education across campus. Their charge was to propose recommendations to strategically improve the financial condition of graduate students.
The top recommendation from the working group was to increase the minimum stipend levels, which would have a large impact on the most financially vulnerable students. The other top recommendations were to have a mechanism for reviewing stipend rates annually campus-wide for possible incremental increases and to advocate for a reduction in fees.
Since then, the Office of Graduate Education has been leading efforts to implement recommendations from the study’s findings and to introduce further efforts that will improve the financial circumstances of graduate students.
As fy023 nears an end, we are happy to report that the following responses to the previously listed recommendations have been met:
Graduate Student Stipend Policy Updates:
The Graduate Student Stipend policy sets the minimum stipend for graduate research and teaching assistants across the Institute and describes processes and responsibilities for setting stipends at or above the minimum.
The minimum Ph.D. stipend rate has been raised from $1,483 per month in 2019 to $2,235 per month starting in Fall 2023, an increase of 50%. During this same time period, the minimum stipend rate paid to master’s students has been raised from $978 per month to $1,155 per month, an increase of 18%.
A recent modification to the policy gives a process to review stipends annually and a means for setting a campus-wide minimum percent increase to stipends as warranted, to keep up with the increasing costs that graduate students face, and to avoid extended periods of stagnation. For next year, GRA/GTA stipend rates will need to be raised by a minimum of three percent over the previous year’s rate. Many academic units have already announced their stipend raises at or above the three percent minimum for the upcoming year, and all programs will need to comply with this minimum increase in rates by January 2024.
Elimination of Mandatory Special Institutional Fees:
The working group’s third recommendation was addressed when the University System of Georgia eliminated the Special Institutional Fee, which went into effect in the fall 2022 semester. This action amounts to a savings of $344 per graduate student, per semester.
Covid Disruption GRA Funding relief:
The working group that reviewed graduate student financial well-being completed its work in January of 2020. But Covid imposed many additional financial, physical, and mental stresses on graduate students. The impact of Covid on Ph.D. students included the loss of research resources and access to research facilities, loss of ability to collaborate with colleagues, personal and home situations, and diversion from research work. The transition to online and hybrid courses caused many Ph.D. students to work as GTAs instead of GRAs. Because of Covid, Many Ph.D. students faced productivity challenges that caused delays in their research which resulted in delays in finishing their degree program.
The Institute provided $432k in the 2020-2021 academic school year to support 68 graduate students whose normal GRA funding had expired and who were delayed a semester in graduation due to Covid. The success of that program led to the Institute allocating approximately $10.3M through Higher Education Emergency Relief Funding III (HEERF III) to fund GRAs who needed to extend their time to complete their degrees due to Covid-related delays between 2020 and 2022. Almost 600 Ph.D. students were funded as GRAs from this grant during the 2021-2022 academic year.
These efforts demonstrate our unrelenting dedication to supporting the overall well-being of our graduate students. We are proud to continue to explore more ways to enhance the financial condition of graduate students who choose to further their education at our institution.