A report submitted this week by Virginia Tech’s Graduate Student Assistantship Support Task Force offered recommendations for increasing financial support and making the university more competitive in the recruitment and retention of graduate students.

“It's important to the scholarly mission of the university for us to have an adequate level of support for assistantships,” said Cyril Clarke, executive vice president and provost, noting that financially competitive assistantships aid in recruiting top students, who in turn have the resources to focus on their studies. “That advantages not only them but the institution because of the way graduate education is so closely related to our academic and research mission.”

The Graduate Student Assistantship Support Task Force was charged in May 2022 by Clarke and Graduate School Dean Aimée Surprenant to examine graduate student stipends and make recommendations for providing financial support that addresses rising living expenses and minimizes educational debt.

Led by Trish Hammer, associate dean for faculty affairs and graduate studies in the College of Science, the 17-member task force benchmarked assistantship compensation at peer institutions, developed a methodology to estimate the cost of living for graduate students in Blacksburg, and identified ways to better support graduate students.

In its report, the task force made eight key recommendations to the university:

  1. Establish a formal and ongoing commitment to meeting the cost of living for graduate assistants.
  2. Continue to study cost of living.
  3. Phase in adjustments to raise minimum stipends to meet cost of living.
  4. Provide an immediate adjustment to a minimum step level.
  5. Cover comprehensive fees.
  6. Expand summer funding opportunities.
  7. Increase external funding support for graduate assistants.
  8. Increase support for graduate students beyond stipend increases.

“We are grateful for the diligent work of the task force in preparing and submitting this report and for the care they took in evaluating and addressing the needs of graduate students,” said Surprenant. “Compensation is an important factor in recruiting, and retaining talent and is critical to enhancing the competitiveness of Virginia Tech’s graduate program.”

The recommendations submitted in the report will be carefully reviewed by university administrators, in consultation with the leadership of the Graduate School and academic colleges, in order to develop a plan to enhance graduate student compensation. The plan would be implemented in accordance with the prioritization of this need relative to other priorities as the university builds its fiscal year 2024 and subsequent budgets.

“Graduate students are important and valued members of our community,” said Clarke. “Within the limits of our resource base, understanding that the university has many priorities, we are committed to doing what we can to support them in their academic progress.”

Once Virginia Tech has clarity on state appropriations and tuition and fee increases, it will be able to develop and implement a final plan relating to the allocation of additional financial resources for graduate students. The university anticipates it will be able to start the process of elevating stipend levels for assistantships on the lower end of the scale.

The full Graduate Assistantship Support Task Force report is available online.

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