Implementation underway for new graduate assistantship stipend policy

May 10, 2017
by Alissa Ewer

Shree Durga, a PhD candidate and project assistant in the Games, Learning and Society Group, works with a student

Photo: University Communications/Bryce Richter

Graduate students who hold TA-standard and PA appointments will see at least a 3.5 percent increase in pay next year based on rates recently approved by the Graduate School. In addition, a more flexible policy on graduate student stipends is allowing academic departments to adjust stipend amounts above the campus minimum in order to remain competitive in attracting top students.

The Graduate School, led by Dean William J. Karpus, began implementing the policy change in 2015. The school collected and approved teaching assistant (TA), project assistantship (PA) and research assistantship (RA) rates from all UW-Madison graduate programs.  On May 10, 2017, Karpus notified school and college leadership that their rates* were approved.

Under the new policy, prospective graduate students can more easily compare funding offers from multiple universities, and UW-Madison departments can offer assistantships that are competitive with peer institutions.

One hundred and twenty-one programs – over three quarters of the total – set their 2017-18 assistantship rates to mirror the campus minimum of $16,196 for a half-time standard TA.  This rate is up 3.5 percent from last year, a total increase of about 14 percent over the past five years.

Twenty-one programs set TA-standard stipend rates above the minimum, including 14 from the College of Letters and Science.  L&S added 2.5 percent to the central 3.5 percent increase in fields where UW-Madison assistantship pay lags more than 10 percent behind peer institutions.  Those fields include Gender and Women’s Studies, Library and Information Studies, Astronomy and Zoology.  Half-time standard TAs in these programs will earn $16,587.50, about $400 more per academic year than the campus minimum.

A handful of programs in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences reported rates above the campus minima.  In each case, faculty or committees within the program carefully considered issues of internal equity and market factors.

The College of Engineering embraced flexibilities of the new policy and, with broad involvement by faculty and leadership, developed a tiered stipend structure.  Departments can use the default tiers or fine-tune rates to the discipline’s market, within college guidelines.  These guidelines emphasize fairness and transparency, as well as consideration of experience, duties, and merit as students progress through stipend tiers.  Most assistantships are RA appointments, funded primarily by research grants and contracts secured by engineering faculty.

“I am pleased with the work that has been done by faculty, staff and graduate students to shape and implement this important change,” states Karpus.  “The new policy helps keep UW-Madison competitive nationally and internationally in recruiting the strongest graduate students, whose scholarship is crucial to the research and teaching mission of our organization.”

Each year the school will recommend to central administration the campus minimum stipend rates for TA, PA and RA appointments and then will collect, review and approve rates from all graduate programs.

*On June 26, 2017, an updated list of approved rates was posted.  Click here to view the updated spreadsheet.

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