February 5, 2020
Dear UT Community,
Graduate education is the cornerstone of a great public research university. Our graduate students play an instrumental role in our education, research and discovery mission. The landscape of graduate education continues to change dramatically, and we need to be responsive in order to continue to attract top graduate student talent from around the world. That is why I convened the Graduate Education Task Force in 2018 and charged its members with studying and making strategic recommendations for improving graduate education at UT Austin. I have received their report, and I want to share it with the campus community.
I'd like to thank the task force members for their work during the past year to examine issues facing graduate education, and the many individuals across campus who shared their experiences and ideas.
As part of its work, the task force identified and provided preliminary recommendations to address areas of concern including graduate student stipends, tuition, advising, health care and student services.
Throughout the report, the task force stressed the vital importance of improving graduate student stipends and ensuring they match or exceed those of peer institutions. On Page 8 of the report, the task force writes:
To prepare for this initiative, we propose a campus-wide process of department-based strategic planning, with support from college-, school-, and university-level administration for the most effective allocation of currently available and new resources in order to build excellence in graduate programs.
Another pressing challenge the task force identified is the shortfall of the Tuition Reduction Benefit (TRB). Last year, we committed funds to fully cover the TRB for the 2019/2020 academic year; we will also commit additional funds to fully cover the TRB for a second year (2020/2021).
Additionally, I have asked Graduate School Dean Mark J. T. Smith and Associate Dean Daina Ramey Berry to work with key stakeholders to develop an implementation plan to complement the report’s recommendations; a process that will also address the long-term solution for the TRB. This plan will provide colleges and schools with a framework and guiding principles for how we address stipends and other remaining recommendations. This plan will be delivered to me later this semester, and we will share it with the campus once it is complete.
There are other immediate actions the university is taking in response to task force recommendations. These include:
Working with the UT System to develop a new graduate student health insurance plan to reduce costs for students and eliminate gaps in coverage. Graduate School leadership is currently working through the details with Human Resources, budget officers on campus and the UT System. You can expect more information about this in the coming months.
Adding clinicians to the Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC) to improve access to mental health services. Hiring for these positions is underway.
Moving forward with plans to construct a new graduate student housing complex. The university is working with an external firm to plan and design the complex. We hope to finalize plans during the spring semester.
Working closely with Texas Career Engagement, the Faculty Innovation Center, and other campus units to offer career development services.
I look forward to continuing to partner with students, faculty members and staff members in going forward to achieve our shared goal of making UT’s graduate programs the best in the world.