Dear Campus Community:
We are writing to provide an update on the Graduate Education Task Force, share preliminary recommendations and announce our plan to invest $10 million in one-time funds for graduate students in the areas of greatest need during the 2019-20 academic year.
These funds will provide near-term tuition and compensation support while the task force continues to identify long-term solutions to better address the needs of our graduate students and the academic quality of programs at the university. The $10 million will support students in qualifying AI and TA positions in academic units with lower levels of existing support, including the College Liberal Arts, College of Fine Arts, College of Education, School of Architecture, LBJ School of Public Affairs, School of Nursing, School of Information, and Steve Hicks School of Social Work.
In 2018, Provost McInnis announced the commitment of these funds when launching this task force. Our preliminary recommendations shared with the provost include a strategy to invest these funds. In response to these preliminary recommendations, the provost noted:
Excellence in graduate education is imperative for UT Austin to be a “university of the first class.” I want to thank the task force for sharing your preliminary recommendations and for your considerable efforts to date. I have reviewed your memo and strongly support your direction and approach. I fully agree that investing the $10 million in one-time funding we committed last year to address areas of highest need is an urgent priority. I intend to work closely with the deans to ensure we do so quickly and effectively for the 2019/20 academic year.
Additionally, we would like to update the campus community on the progress of the task force and share its preliminary long-term recommendations.
To date, task force outreach has included six town hall meetings with a seventh scheduled today. Task force members have met with associate deans, department chairs, graduate coordinators and many graduate students. Through its website, the task force has received around 200 comments from stakeholders.
Among the many issues identified by the task force, the most critical include: compensation levels and the amount of the Tuition Reduction Benefit (TRB) for students working as teaching assistants (TAs) and assistant instructors (AIs); the availability and cost of housing; continuity of health insurance and availability of mental health care; student, faculty, and advisor relationships; and challenges facing international students.
The task force is working to collect accurate data and has partnered with the Office of Institutional Reporting, Research, and Information Systems (IRRIS) to examine unit-level data and develop a software tool to enable departments to explore new models for supporting students.
While formal recommendations are not due until December of 2019, the task force has developed preliminary recommendations as it continues discussions during the summer and fall semester. These preliminary recommendations include:
- Increasing the TRB for students working as TAs and AIs to fully cover the cost of tuition at present and developing strategies for sustainability in the future.
- Aligning graduate student stipends to be competitive with those of peer institutions and more commensurate with the cost of attendance in order to ensure that graduate programs can more effectively compete for top student talent.
- Exploring a health care system that will ensure graduate students’ continuous access to health care throughout their degree program, improve mental health care, and provide affordable options for dependent care.
- Undertaking a process of strategic planning for graduate programs that will consider funding levels required to be competitive with peer institutions, the ratio of graduate students to tenure/tenure track faculty members relative to field-specific norms, and departmental goals for long-term faculty and graduate program success. Departments should also consider ways to increase graduate student diversity, to accommodate international students, and to improve student outcomes (e.g., time to degree, degree completion and attrition rates, student job placement and success post-graduation).
- Generating guidelines for the employment, advising, and mentoring of graduate students by faculty and University units. These guidelines will be department-specific but will generally seek to reduce conflicts between students and faculty and to enhance the quality of the graduate experience.
Additionally, based on campus feedback, Mylon Kirksy, director of residential life for University Housing and Dining (UHD), has been added to the task force and will continue to engage UHD on housing issues as they relate to graduate students.
While the task force will continue to work with campus partners and identify long-term solutions, it has become clear in conversations that many students and programs require immediate assistance.
During the summer, the task force will be working with leadership in colleges, schools and departments to identify qualifying students in advance of the fall semester.
The task force looks forward to continuing to work with the campus community during the coming months.
MARK J. T. SMITH
Dean of the Graduate School
Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
The University of Texas at Austin
DAINA RAMEY BERRY
Associate Dean of the Graduate School
Oliver H. Radkey Regents Professor of History
The University of Texas at Austin