UC Board of Regents discusses funding for graduate students

With funding for its graduate academic students falling behind the UC’s competitor institutions, the UC Board of Regents discussed at their meeting Thursday how to increase funds for graduate students — a crucial part of the university’s academic excellence, according to faculty and administrators.

Board members discussed eliminating nonresident graduate student tuition and increasing all graduate students’ stipends in order to increase the UC’s competitiveness relative to its peers, which is critical given UC surveys that indicate the university could be starting to lose its luster as a premier graduate student destination.

Graduate academic students’ enrollment choices reflect the downward trend in UC graduate academic funding relative to non-UC institutions. Forty-eight percent of respondents indicated that they would attend UCs in 2010, down 4 percent from 2007, according to surveys conducted by the UC Office of the President.

The board did not take action on any potential changes to graduate student tuition or funding.

Several board members raised the possibility of eliminating nonresident tuition for graduate students because it is often a barrier to the UC accepting more international students into graduate programs. Nonresident tuition is $15,102 higher than resident tuition, money which often comes out of research grants.

“There are departments, there are programs that have stopped admitting international students,” said Robert Powell, vice chair of the systemwide Academic Senate at the meeting. “There are compromises that are being made as a result of the difference between nonresident and resident students.”

International students comprise 20 percent of graduate students in the UC system, according to UC Provost Lawrence Pitts.

In addition to discussing methods for attracting qualified students, the board also addressed the growing concern that lagging graduate student stipends reduce the university’s competitiveness in attracting the best and brightest graduate students.

In 2010, the per capita average UC net stipend — which provides for a graduate academic student’s living costs — was $2,697 below the per capita average non-UC net stipend, according to the survey. In 2007, the per capita average UC net stipend was only $1,050 below the per capita average non-UC net stipend for graduate academic students.

If this gap negatively affects the UC’s ability to attract the best graduate students, the consequences would be severe for the university, according to systemwide Academic Senate Chair Robert Anderson.

“We simply could not produce the quality or quantity of research we do without the presence of graduate students,” he said.

The board also discussed increasing overall tuition to increase revenue.

According to UC Vice President of Research and Graduate Studies Steven Beckwith, as tuition for academic graduate students is usually paid through research grants allotted to university graduate departments, increasing graduate academic tuition could effectively increase revenue to the university, which could in turn go back to graduate student programs.

“I think we could gain revenue by setting a rate that’s somewhere in between (resident and nonresident tuition),” he said at the meeting. “I’m confident that with (an overall) rate even higher than our resident rate, we would still be competitive.”


Damian Ortellado covers higher education.