Graduate Education Transformation Tracker
In December of 2018, the university announced the creation of the Graduate Education Task Force to examine key issues facing graduate students and provide recommendations to enhance graduate education. This website tracks the university’s progress in implementing task force recommendations along with other key initiatives to improve graduate education at the university.
Below are updates regarding each recommendation provided by the task force. The full Graduate Education Task Force report is available online. This website will be updated throughout the implementation process.
Find the progress charts here.
A. Make improvement of graduate student funding a strategic priority for the university.
Complete & Ongoing. Recognizing the need to improve graduate stipends in key areas, the university created the Graduate Education Task Force in 2019. In January 2020, the university accepted the task force report, which included recommendations for graduate stipends. Since then, the Graduate School has worked with graduate programs where salaries are lower to identify solutions for raising them. As announced in an email on Sept. 3, 2021, the university is providing $10.9 million dollars in additional recurring funds to support graduate students—an investment that represents the largest single increase for graduate students in the history of the university.
The $10.9 million in new central funds will provide raises for graduate student academic employees in programs where salaries are lower, support students across campus through the creation of new fellowship positions and top-off funds and eliminate the shortfall of the Tuition Reduction Benefit (TRB), which resulted in many graduate student academic employees paying a portion of their tuition out-of-pocket. Colleges, schools and departments have also provided substantial contributions to raise salaries.
B. Increase stipends in graduate programs to match or exceed those of peer institutions.
Substantial progress. As a result of the new investments, colleges and schools have established a minimum salary for TAs and AIs. For programs where the expectation in their fields is to competitively support students—for example, most doctoral and terminal master’s programs—the targeted minimum for TA and AI salaries (or a combination of stipend and salary) is $19,000 for a 20-hour, nine-month position. This represents a minimum rate of around $24/per hour and does not include the value of the Tuition Reduction Benefit (TRB) and the tuition waiver that out-of-state academic graduate student employees receive in addition to salaries, and many programs surpass this level of support. For students in programs where this is not the expectation—such as nonterminal master’s programs—we have also set a minimum of $15,000 for TAs and AIs.
There are some units on campus that have raised GRA appointments commensurate with their new minimum TA and AI pay rates, but not all. The Graduate School is working with units across campus to increase GRA support as needed. Additionally, the Graduate School will continue to work with departments and colleges to further increase graduate student salaries and respond to the growing cost of living in Austin.
Target Completion Date: August 2022.
C. Graduate programs should also collect and maintain data for time-to-degree, completion rates, and job placements for all students and evaluate these data periodically to assess program performance and student success.
Complete. The Graduate School has compiled data on stipends, time-to-degree, completion rates and job placements for all graduate programs. The Institutional Reporting, Research and Information Systems (IRRIS) will collect and report data in the future for colleges, schools and departments.
A. We recommend that the TRB gap be permanently eliminated for all eligible graduate students with academic appointments. To achieve this, the university should (a) fully fund the TRB to match tuition costs, and (b) maintain the TRB to match changing tuition costs in the future.
Complete. Starting during the 2019-20 academic year, the university provided Tuition Reduction Benefit (TRB) supplements to students employed as TAs, AIs and GRAs, effectively eliminating the TRB gap. Starting in the fall of 2020, the university raised the TRB amount to cover the full cost of tuition for academic employees with 20 hour/week appointments. The university is committed to ensuring that the TRB continues to align with any future increases in tuition.
B. We urge the university to create a universal solution to the TRB gap.
Complete. Since fall of 2019, the university has provided central funds to address the shortfall of the TRB and will continue to as the Graduate School and departments, colleges and schools develop strategic plans.
A. Work with UT System to create a health care plan specifically for graduate students that maintains coverage year-round, while still giving students the option of UT Select staff/employee insurance.
Complete. Starting in the fall 2021 semester, the university is changing the default insurance option for benefits-eligible academic employees from UT Select to Academic Blue, while providing the flexibility to still choose UT Select. Graduate students with benefits-eligible academic employment of 20-29 hours per week will be automatically enrolled in Academic Blue with 100% premium support provided by the university. Academic Blue provides affordable, quality coverage that meets or exceeds a gold-level of coverage according to the Affordable Care Act.
Enrollment in Academic Blue enables students to maintain continuity of coverage for the duration of their studies, regardless of their status as fellows, employees or self-supported students, and avoid reset deductibles that occurred during transitions between UT Select and Academic Blue. Additionally, benefits-eligible academic employees enrolled in Academic Blue will now have access to vision and dental coverage at no premium cost.
Students enrolled in Academic Blue have access to many services provided by University Health Services (UHS)—including primary care, general medicine and preventative services—that are covered at 100% without copays. Academic Blue is administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas and has the same provider network as UT Select, so students currently on UT Select can maintain access to their providers. Also, Academic Blue provides spouse and child coverage that is more affordable than UT Select.
Academic Blue is also available to students without academic employment or academic employment that is below 20 hours per week. For these students, the full premium for Academic Blue is affordable.
The university expects that the majority of students will have lower out-of-pocket expenses under the Academic Blue plan. Nevertheless, we have determined that a small percentage of the overall benefits-eligible, graduate student population could experience increases in out-of-pocket costs under the Academic Blue plan. Students who experience a significant increase in cost may be eligible for an assistance fund that the Graduate School is developing leading up to the fall semester. More information about the fund, including eligibility criteria and application instructions, will be provided in the coming weeks.
B. Improve communication with graduate students about their health care coverage.
Ongoing. The Graduate School has begun routinely highlighting health coverage options for students through its various channels, including newsletters to students and through FAQs on its website. Additionally, it our expectation that Academic Blue will be available in the fall of 2021 and will provide students with clearer options to make health care decisions.
Target completion date: Ongoing.
A. Improve and expand mental health services to accommodate the growing needs of students. The Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC) should be expanded with a larger number of qualified personnel, evening and weekend hours of service, options for electronic delivery of programs/health care topics, and fewer restrictions on one-on-one visits. In addition, the university should build stronger relationships with community providers through the CMHC to ensure student access to off-campus referrals by developing a list of providers who take insurance and offer sliding scales for graduate students.
Complete. Since 2019, the Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC) has expanded services and developed new programming for graduate students. These items include both in-person and telehealth services, the launch of several new services—My Student Support Program (My SSP), Mental Health Assistance and Response Team (MHART)—several well-being resources, and additional clinical and administrative staff. CMHC also has placed fewer restrictions on one-on-one counseling sessions, created counseling groups specifically for graduate students and continued to build strong relationships with community providers.
A full description of the expansions is available here.
B. Communicate more effectively to graduate students, departmental staff members, and faculty members about services available from the CMHC and other providers to broaden campus awareness of mental health-related resources and ensure that graduate student-specific counseling services are available.
Ongoing. CMHC has developed numerous channels to promote its services for graduate students, including newsletters, social media and email communications. The Graduate School has begun routinely highlighting mental health resources for students through its various channels, including newsletters to students and through FAQs on its website. The Graduate School will continue to work with CMHC on promoting services and resources for graduate students.
Target completion date: Ongoing.
C. Expand options for child care available to students. Consider building child care centers within new graduate student housing complexes (see Housing, below). Use existing Child Development Center expertise to create relationships with community child care providers; develop arrangements to give prioritized access for students, staff members, and faculty members to child care facilities near the campus and in surrounding neighborhoods. Consider involving UT graduate students in childhood education and health fields in these efforts. Also consider using a system for emergency care providers similar to “Bright Horizons” currently available for university faculty members. Develop policies for child-care- related absences and how these are to be handled for graduate students at the program, college, and university levels.
Substantial progress. The Graduate School has been discussing options for expanding child care access with other stakeholders on campus, including University Housing and Dining (UHS) and the University Child Development Center (CDC). Discussions have identified several barriers to the university constructing new facilities—including substantial costs of building and operating new facilities.
The UT Child Development Center currently has about 100 full-time childcare openings for the fall semester for toddler through 4-year-old children. Interested parents should reach out directly to CDC Director Hara Cootes.
UT is exploring other options for providing additional child care options. The university has partnered with two child care centers near campus that are now offering part-time childcare options for school-aged children attending kindergarten through 5th grade in 2020-21. Read the full message from the Child Development Center for more information.
Additionally, benefits-eligible graduate students can access Life Care, a resource and referral service to connect employees to child care, senior care, and legal and financial services.
Target completion date: To be determined.
A. Prioritize the expansion of graduate student housing. Develop or purchase housing complexes and offer these units to graduate students at affordable rates. To assist graduate students with child care, consider including or partnering with child care services in these complexes.
Substantial progress. In August 2021, the University of Texas System Board of Regents authorized the university to build new graduate student housing in UT Austin’s East Campus area between Comal Street, East 21st Street, Leona Street, and south of Manor Road. The university plans to add about 780 beds in this area. The project is targeted for completion in 2024. The new housing options will help address affordability for UT Austin students navigating Austin’s competitive real estate market and make it possible for more students to live close to campus. More details will be provided once they have been finalized.
B. Consider partnering with other university departments to offer a housing reduction benefit (HRB). The goal would be to close the financial gap between what students could afford and the cost of university-owned housing.
Begun. Providing a Housing Reduction Benefit (HRB) for graduate students in university-owned housing is still a point for discussion and consideration with academic colleges. At this time, no commitments have been made, nor a timeline established.
Target completion date: Ongoing.
C. Establish a University Apartments advisory group. The group would be composed of graduate students who reside in the University Apartments and faculty and staff members. The group would provide suggestions and input regarding community development and policies to the vice president for student affairs and the director of Housing and Dining Services. The group would also be a sounding board on ways to effectively communicate with graduate students, as well as offer solutions on ways to address certain concerns, questions or complaints that come to UHD or the tenant advisory board.
Complete. The Tenant Advisory Board (TAB) serves the community of graduate students within the University Apartments and is made up of six graduate students who live in the University Apartments. The TAB chair meets monthly with the assistant director of the University Apartments and submits proposals and recommendation to policy changes to both assistant director and director. TAB has a monthly open forum meeting for graduate students in the University Apartments to help address concerns, questions and suggestions. They also respond to email inquiries from community members. TAB has proposed and led a number of community improvement projects, which include: landscaping improvements; converting apartment HVACs from window units to central air; and way-finding signage around the grounds and apartment buildings. TAB and UHD also work closely with leadership within The Graduate School on matters and suggestions related to graduate students.
D. Ensure that affordable, safe transportation is available for graduate students between graduate housing locations, the main campus, and the J.J. Pickle Research Campus. Extend rideshare transportation arrangements with the university to include the Pickle campus and other campus facilities.
Begun. Due to COVID-19, Capital Metro has reduced services. TAB and UHD will re-engage in discussion with Capital Metro this fall 2020 to determine when they are able to consider route and service adjustments.
Target completion date: September 2021.
A. Establish an ISSS advisory group composed of faculty and staff members and international students to further examine current support services and seek feedback and recommendations on programs and outreach for international students at UT Austin. Use annual assessments of all international students to gain further insights into the international student experience, and use the insights gathered from students to improve services for these students.
Substantial progress. In 2020-2021 Texas Global will launch the International Student Barometer to assess the international student experience and further develop services and programming that enhance their academic careers.
Target completion date: May 2021.
B. Develop additional communication and outreach measures to increase awareness of ISSS advising, services, and programs, especially during the first few months on campus. Ensure that international students receive clear communication about the rules and options pertaining to health care for themselves and their families. Inform international students about available campus and community health care resources to assist with care for extended family members.
Ongoing. Texas Global recruited an outreach coordinator to serve on the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) team to streamline communication initiatives. The bolstered communication plan includes strategic social media campaigns, diversified content for the ISSS Blog, consistent email communication, and student-focused information on the newly designed website. ISSS has created two modules to support international students in understanding the U.S. health care system and the health insurance requirements.
Target completion date: Ongoing.
C. Enhance cultural programming and networking opportunities to develop a more connected international graduate student community and ensure that students have opportunities to voice their concerns. Increase programs during intersession periods for students who cannot travel to their home countries.
Ongoing. Texas Global is offering virtual programming to international students and scholars to create a more interactive community for those in Austin and abroad. Virtual events include both activities where students can share their talents and cultural insights and interactive dialogues focused on societal aspects of the U.S.
Target completion date: Ongoing.
D. Increase awareness of on- and off-campus employment opportunities for international students. Identify internal challenges that international students face when requesting authorization to work off-campus. Build awareness across graduate programs to support international students pursuing off-campus work authorization, including curricular practical training.
Ongoing. Texas Global is collaborating with the Texas Career Engagement Center to provide specialized programming for international students in Fall 2020. Additionally, career support initiatives have been posted on the Stay Informed Page where students can find up-to-date information about immigration issues and UT services.
Target completion date: Ongoing.
A. Graduate programs should be required to put in place TA/ AI-instructor signed agreements between students and faculty/instructors, stored by the graduate coordinator or advisor, that clearly outline TA/AI responsibilities of students. Graduate student representatives should be involved in generating the agreements for each program. GRA-faculty signed agreements should also be instituted for graduate students and their research advisors that delineate the expectations for graduate students and the responsibilities and roles of the research mentor. This document should be generated by departments or graduate programs with details specific to the field of study. Copies of the signed agreement should be retained by the faculty member and the graduate advisor.
Substantial progress. The Graduate School is compiling agreement examples that departments can use. During the coming year, the Graduate School will encourage colleges, schools and departments to consider adopting agreements in consultation with their graduate students that are appropriate for their programs.
Target completion date: August 2021.
B. Graduate programs should make students aware of the UT Austin grievance policy (see above) and should consider generating their own grievance procedures. These should also consider potential conflict-of-interest situations, such as faculty research advisors in the role of TA/AI instructors, and ensure that students presenting a grievance are adequately protected from reprisals.
Substantial progress. Existing grievance policies at the university provide guidance to programs and departments and prohibit reprisals against students filing grievances. The Graduate School plans to raise awareness among graduate students of the existing UT Austin grievance policy resources.
Target completion date: December 2020.
A. All graduate students should receive an accurate estimate of the stipend levels, tuition benefits, and additional fees (including health insurance, summer coverage, tuition if applicable, and international student fees) they will receive in their formal offer letters from their graduate programs before they enter the university. Programs that do not already use the Office of Graduate Studies (OGS) offer template should be encouraged to do so.
Complete. Following an effort by the Graduate School to gather examples of offer letters from across campus, the admissions and enrollment committee of the Graduate Assembly developed guidelines and an associated template to promote and support consistent offer letters across graduate programs, colleges and schools. The guidelines and template were approved by the Graduate Assembly and the Graduate School in December 2020.
B. Offer letters should outline the funding plan for each year of the student’s package with clarity about fees and other expenses so that students understand their financial situation before and during their time at UT Austin. All graduate students should receive clear information about academic and non-academic employment they are eligible for during their degree programs and what the levels of compensation will before these jobs
Complete. The offer letter guidelines and an associated template call for this information to be included in offer letters across campus.
A. All programs should be required to maintain on their websites an annually updated program handbook or alternative guidelines document and provide students these documents upon entry into the graduate program. Graduate programs should use the OGS “best practices” handbook template and adapt this for their own units. Handbooks should also include procedures for formal evaluations, limitations on program duration or funding availability, and accommodations for parental leave and child-care-related absences.
Complete. The Graduate Assembly has passed legislation requiring departments to provide graduate students with handbooks that contain procedures for evaluations, time-to-degree duration, funding and parental accommodations. Most departments have finished creating and posting handbooks on their websites, and the Graduate School is in the process of verifying compliance across campus.
B. Graduate programs should consider mandating an annual evaluation of research and training milestones for each student, carried out collaboratively by the student’s principal research advisor and the graduate student. These should be field-specific and aim to give productive feedback to students as they pursue their graduate degrees. The graduate program advisors should collect these evaluations and monitor their completion.
Complete. The Graduate Assembly passed legislation requiring graduate programs to conduct annual reviews for all graduate students. The Graduate School will be collecting and evaluating the reviews of programs at the university and will provide feedback for improvement during the fall semester.
A. Programs should prepare students for the multiple Ph.D.-level career opportunities available to their graduates.
Ongoing. The Graduate School and campus partners have made substantial progress working with programs to support career development and fostering diverse skillsets. Texas Career Engagement has developed a range of programming to support career trajectories in academia, business, nonprofit, government and industry for Ph.D. students. They have hired a team of career professionals and graduate student consultants dedicated exclusively to serving master’s and Ph.D. students in their career and professional development through hosting workshops, employer events and individual consultations.
Additionally, the Graduate School and Texas Career Engagement have been working with faculty and programs across campus to develop cultures and resources within departments that are supportive of all career pathways for Ph.D. graduates. The Graduate School is a participant in the American Association of University’s (AAU) Ph.D. initiative and is working with four departments to pilot programming focused on doctoral career diversity.
Target completion date: Ongoing.
B. Programs should assist students in preparing for and finding employment.
Ongoing. The Graduate School and Texas Career Engagement have launched several initiatives to help graduate students in their job searches, including organizing a range of programming, curating job openings for advanced degree candidates, connecting graduate student with alumni, and providing access to online career exploration and job search tools, including HireUTexas, HookedIn, ImaginePhD, Versatile Ph.D., Beyond the Professoriate and Interstride, an online platform designed specifically for international student career support.
Target completion date: Ongoing. Future areas of development include focusing on the intersection of identity and career for graduate students, specifically for under-represented graduate students.