Investing in Graduate Assistants

UW–Madison invests millions in graduate assistantship support

UW–Madison, through internal, extramural, and gift funding sources, supports over 4,700 graduate students – including 68% of doctoral students – through teaching assistant (TA), project assistant (PA), research assistant (RA), and lecturer student assistant (LSA) appointments.

Graduate assistants receive a monthly stipend and, for those with at least a 33% appointment, free tuition and eligibility for comprehensive benefits. These competitive compensation packages help UW–Madison faculty recruit the top graduate students nationally and globally.

Pie chart GA packageStipends

Graduate assistant stipends are above the peer institution median

Recent increases have placed UW–Madison above the estimated Association of American Universities (AAU) peer median. Additionally, individual departments can choose to pay their graduate assistants at a higher stipend rate than the minimum, and some graduate students hold combined appointments that include a fellowship or additional assistantship. 84% of RAs, 72% of PAs, and 66% of TAs have total appointment levels of 50% or higher.

In 2020-21, about 2,600 graduate assistants benefited from the most recent round of stipend increases: PAs saw an 11.7% increase in minimum stipend levels from the past year’s rate, TAs a 2.5% increase, and LSAs a 20.8% increase.

Due to budget challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s minimum stipend rates for graduate assistants and fellows will remain unchanged for the 2021-22 academic year.

Facing an anticipated $320 million in lower revenue and increased costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UW–Madison has taken steps to mitigate financial damage, including freezing salaries and most hiring across campus and implementing an employee furlough plan. Graduate assistants were exempt from intermittent furloughs in fall 2020 and spring 2021.

Tuition remission

An overlooked but valuable part of the compensation package

Tuition remission – for which 99% of graduate assistants qualify – allows them to take up to a full credit load or enroll in research credits in the fall, spring, and summer semesters. The tuition rate for a non-dissertator Wisconsin resident is $15,000 per year, which is covered in full for graduate assistants.

Benefits

Graduate assistants have many of the same benefits as faculty and staff

Graduate students with graduate assistantship appointments are eligible for many of the same high-quality benefits as state employees, often at a discounted rate. The annual employer contribution toward graduate assistant health insurance and dental coverage ranges from $7,000 to $16,500 on average depending on the health plan a graduate assistant selects.

Below is an overview of the optional benefits available to graduate assistants (GAs). See the Office of Human Resources’ Benefits Services Website for detailed benefit information, including family options.

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Health insurance

GAs are eligible for a State Group Health Insurance plan, with preventive services covered at 100% and a Uniform Dental coverage option for services such as cleanings, fillings, and x-rays. The 2021 Employee Coverage Premium (including Uniform Dental) is $50 per month.

Supplemental dental insurance

GAs are eligible for supplemental dental coverage through Delta Dental, which provides a portion of coverage for major dental services such as crowns, root canals, and implants. The 2021 Employee Coverage Premiums are Select $9.28 per month or Select Plus $16.82 per month.

Vision insurance

GAs are eligible for supplemental vision coverage through DeltaVision, which provides a portion of coverage for annual vision exams, prescription glasses, and contacts. The 2021 Employee Coverage Premium is $5.72 per month.

Flex spending accounts

GAs can set aside money on a pre-tax basis, which lowers taxable income. A health care account can be used to pay for eligible expenses, such as prescription co-pays and glasses/contacts ($2,750 annual maximum in 2021). A dependent care account can be used to pay for eligible expenses such as daycare ($5,000 annual maximum in 2021).

Life insurance

GAs have four plans to choose from: Individual & Family, UW Employees Inc., Accidental Death & Dismemberment, and Accident Insurance through Securian. The 2021 Employee Coverage Premiums vary by plan and coverage amount elected.

Retirement plans

GAs are eligible for the Tax Sheltered Annuity 403(b) program and 457 Wisconsin Deferred Compensation program. These plans allow before-tax and after-tax (Roth) contributions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do graduate students pay segregated fees?

The important services funded through segregated fees are utilized by all graduate and undergraduate students, and are a major reason the quality of the UW–Madison experience is so high. Currently no population of students is exempt from paying segregated fees. The university has chosen to increase financial support and provide flexibility for graduate students through increased stipends, rather than paying required fees for them.

Segregated fees are $734.30 per semester for non-dissertators enrolled at 8 credits, or $308.00 for dissertators (2020-21). These fees fund the bus pass program, University Health Services, the Child Care Tuition Assistance Program, and other services, which are utilized at significant rates by graduate students. For example, graduate and professional students made over 6,500 visits to UHS’s mental health services in the 2017-18 academic year.  A city bus pass – which students receive at no additional charge because of segregated fees – would cost $780 per year, or $336 per year for a limited quantity of low-income passes.  The Child Care Tuition Assistant Program typically covers 30 to 40% of child care costs per semester, for graduate students who qualify.

Do our institutional peers require graduate assistants to pay fees?

Some do and some do not – but simply having fees waived does not mean graduate students are faring better elsewhere. For example, at UC Berkeley and UCLA, all or nearly all mandatory fees are waived. However, University of California campuses do not remit nonresidential tuition (about $7,500 per semester) like UW–Madison does, where over 82% of TAs would be considered non-residents for tuition purposes.

In other examples, at Indiana University, where fees are $600 per semester and upwards, graduate appointments do not include fee waivers. The same is true at the University of Colorado Boulder and Michigan State University, where no fees are waived because of assistantships.

Overall, however, comparing mandatory fees is complex: fee levels, services funded by fees, and individual departmental contributions toward fees vary greatly from university to university.

If you have questions, please contact graduateschool@grad.wisc.edu.