UConn graduate students receive stagnant pay despite growing tuition costs

In this file photo, the Nathan L. Whetten Graduate Center is pictured. The building is the headquarters for UConn's graduate programs. (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

The graduate student population grew by  2,059 this semester to create a total population of 6,965, according to the UConn Graduate School.

For the past 10 years, approximately 38 percent of applicants to the graduate program were accepted. While the percent admitted has remained roughly the same in the past decade, the number of applications grew from 7,823 in 2005-06 to 11,260 in 2014-15, with 4,445 admitted. This is nearly 1,000 more applicants than the previous year, the most UConn has seen. 

As the university becomes more renowned, more students are attracted to the programs, said Tony Patelunas, PhD. student and research assistant in the department of molecular and cellular biology and president of the graduate student senate.

“It gets more individual on a graduate student level,” Patelunas said. Students are attracted to programs based on certain advisors and if their research interests match, not just the university itself.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2013-14 the most common advanced degrees awarded at UConn were in business, management and marketing, with 453 masters degrees earned. Other popular areas include public administration and social service professions, with 241, education with 238 and engineering with 144. 

University spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said that graduate students are an essential part of the undergraduate education, teaching many classes at UConn. 

Of the 6,965 graduate students, approximately 2,200 are graduate assistants who are responsible for teaching, researching and working with undergraduates. They receive stipends and tuition waivers which vary based on their role, experience and time spent working. GAs typically work for nine-month appointments. Roles such as teaching assistants work for undergraduate classes and are paid by the university, while research assistants depend on advisor funding. 

The university’s GA program only waives tuition, not additional student fees which made up $488 of the $1,212 in-state and $2,367 out-of-state cost per credit in the 2015-2016 school year. 

Being a graduate student does not guarantee receiving one of these positions. That depends on a variety of factors, including department demand for assistance, funding and degree pursued by the student. PhD students often have priority over master’s students for TA positions.

Stipends at UConn are typically lower than other universities, and increases in salary were also nearly stagnant for several years. In 2014-2015, full time academic year stipends were about $20,966 for beginners and $24,527 for those holding a PhD.

Rutgers University’s full-time TA and GA starting salaries for the academic year were $25,969 in 2013. The University of Massachusetts-Amherst waives both tuition and fees, and pays a minimum of $24.38 per hour in 2015-16, giving a full-time TA an academic year salary of about $37,058. 

The non-resident graduate tuition and fees of $2,367 per credit at UConn is comparable to other universities, such as Rutgers’ $2,142 per credit.

With increases in tuition averaging $54.43 per credit per semester since 2008, overall costs of college outpaced the amount students were comfortable with, Patelunas said. 

Since April 2015, the approximately 2,200 graduate assistants have been unionized through the Graduate Employee Union-United Auto Workers, and entered negotiations with the university for a reduction in fees for upcoming years, a steady increase in salary and better job protection.

“Graduate students are in an in-between state,” Patelunas said. “Since graduate students are students, but act as employees for many positions, job stability was a concern, such as if an advisor could no longer afford to pay a student in the middle of the year. Now, positions are protected for the year."

There are other concerns besides pricing. Overall attractiveness of a program, among graduate studies, is largely based upon personal relationships and experience gained.

“For me, it’s less about how much I pay,” said Jeff Divino, graduate assistant and doctoral candidate in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology. He said that within his department, flexibility for family life was a good experience for him. 

“The University is pleased that so many talented students have selected UConn for the next step in their education, and we appreciate how much they give back by sharing their experience with our undergraduates," Reitz said. "Whether they are teaching or not, our graduate students are an important part of what makes UConn so strong academically and socially.”


Stephanie Koo is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.koo@uconn.edu.