The University of Texas at Austin is ranked among the top universities in the world, in large part because of its outstanding graduate programs that support the university’s research enterprise and its extraordinary faculty committed to academic excellence. In recent decades, however, the landscape of graduate education has changed dramatically in response to a shifting academic job market, rising costs, the availability of new technologies and evolving academic fields.
Leading research universities across the U.S. are engaging in a national dialogue about the role and importance of our degrees and how we can best prepare students for an evolving workforce. Among the most pressing issues facing the university is graduate student compensation.
During the past decade, UT Austin has fallen behind its peer universities in the compensation it provides graduate students. In many cases, the raises we’ve provided over the years have not kept pace with inflation—a situation that increasingly impedes student recruiting and negatively affects current students. If UT Austin is to become a preeminent leader in graduate education, we must take a holistic, strategic look at our programs and find ways to appropriately support our students.
Task Force Overview
To address these issues, the university has formed the Graduate Education Task Force, a group of faculty members and graduate students who will explore and recommend strategic solutions for enhancing graduate education at the university. The task force will examine potential solutions that are critical to the future success of our graduate programs, including recommendations for improving:
- Graduate student compensation
- Time-to-degree and graduation and job placement rates
- Support services for students’ physical and mental well-being
Daina Ramey Berry, the Oliver H. Radkey Regents Professor of History at UT Austin, has accepted a three-year appointment in the Graduate School as associate dean. In this role, working with college leadership and department faculty, she will support the task force over the next two semesters and afterward help facilitate the implementation within colleges and departments. Recognizing the benefit of having supporting data for review and discussion, the task force is working with the Office of Institutional Reporting, Research, and Information Systems (IRRIS) to collect internal data and provide peer data comparisons.
Because department cultures and administrative practices vary greatly across campus, the task force will convene internal subcommittees to focus on disciplinary subsets that share common characteristics. The end goal will be to have a suite of recommendations that departments and faculty members can use to develop a customized implementation plan for their graduate programs. The task force will be charged with providing its report by the end of the 2019 fall semester.
As part of this effort, the university will commit significant one-time funds to help departments increase graduate student support based on task force recommendations, including up to $10 million during the first academic year of implementation and additional one-time funds during subsequent years. It is anticipated that much of the one-time funding invested by the university will provide immediate increases to graduate stipends in key areas.
Task Force Charge
- Cluster graduate programs into a manageable number of disciplinary areas that share common characteristics and create a subcommittee for each area, augmented as appropriate with additional members.
- Examine general options for changing program characteristics that will improve compensation for graduate students and the quality of graduate education, in accordance with college/school budget constraints.
- Provide recommendations for change at the area level that can be used directly or adapted by department faculty in consultation with the college leadership.
- Submit to the provost a report with recommendations that can be used by departments and programs as they map out their individual plans for supporting graduate education.
The task force will examine:
- Recent program changes and enhancements instituted at peer institutions focused on improving the quality of graduate education and support of graduate students.
- The range of parameters (such as faculty, staff, and student cohort size; and length and type of student recruiting packages) related to how resources might be reallocated to better support graduate education, both at UT and at peer institutions.
- The level of support needed to offer highly competitive student recruiting packages, taking into account the rising cost of living in Austin.
- The gap in the Tuition Reduction Benefit (TRB) and the cost of tuition.
- Models that optimize time to degree, placement outcomes, and completion rates.