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CGSP discusses continuous enrollment issue

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 15 - December 8, 1994

The Commission on Graduate Studies and Policies (CGSP) has begun a discussion of alternatives to requiring enrollment and tuition of graduate students who remain on campus during the summer to carry out their research.

Commission chair Joe Merola began the discussion by defining continuous enrollment. "So long as a graduate student is enrolled for fall and spring, this year and next, that is continuous enrollment. However, there is a separate policy that requires students who are here, working towards their degree, to be enrolled for the summer.

"That is an unpopular policy," Merola said. Some students object because they claim that they are working at home, or that any state resident can use the library--equating tuition with a facilities charge. Others object because some students are paid wages to work on faculty research, and carry out their own research as well without paying tuition.

"In a time of shrinking resources, it's hard to do away with summer enrollment and tuition," Merola said. Don Mullins said, "It would be a lot cleaner to capture tuition during the two regular semesters and not the summer."

John Eaton agreed, "For a relatively small increase, above what is going to occur anyway, we could recover the three-quarters of a million dollars."

Len Peters said the increase would be roughly $100 per student per semester. "That's much less than paying for three credits for each summer session (about $1,200)," Merola said, and asked the commission members to solicit input from their colleagues.

Because there were no graduate students present, other commissioners tried to suggest objections.

"It would mean approximately 4,000 students would carry the burden for the 1,500 who register for the summer and who knows how many who don't but should," said Eaton.

"Students in non-thesis programs will view themselves as subsidizing thesis-program students," Peters said.

"They are only subsidizing in terms of providing a way to capture needed funds," Merola said. "We have to communicate to students what they are paying tuition for. It is not a fee for line-item services." Merola encouraged commissioners to also discuss with their colleagues how to explain what tuition is for--to give some thought to a "coherent philosophy."

In other business,

* The ad-hoc committee on the instructional-fee-scholarship (IFS) policy, conveyed concern regarding the negative impact on three colleges--Business, Architecture, and Education--of implementation next year if there is not an extension of the transition year's "bridging funds."

The policy provides funds based on numbers of graduate teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and graduate research assistants. Frequently, funds for the latter come from sponsors of research such as the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy. When asked later to explain the dilemma for the three colleges, Eaton said the new IFS funding structure requires that all graduate assistants (GTA's, GRA's and GA's) receive a tuition fellowship; this was not the case in the past and the result is that the colleges have less flexibility in the use of funds for students not on assistantship. This year a funding formlua based on the number of students on assistantship was developed. Since Architecture, Business, and Education have significantly lower percentages of students on assistantship, they have lost flexibility. During the transition year, the IFS formula funded these colleges at the previous level, but the plan is to move these colleges to the same funding basis as the other six colleges in the future.

The ad-hoc committee suggested the Graduate School staff meet with representatives of the three colleges, but the commission changed the suggestion to a motion that the IFS administrators meet with representatives of all the colleges before 1995-96.

The committee also expressed concern that the policy had been implemented in haste without input through the governance structure and without reason. Merola objected and noted that there was reason for haste due to a requirement for a policy from federal funding agencies. Also, departments were increasingly concerned about their ability to recruit competitively, and both the Commission on Research and CGSP asked the Graduate School to act.

A survey by the Graduate School during summer 1993 confirmed what the university had recognized for some time: the level of graduate stipends after the payment of tuition and fees did not permit Virginia Tech to compete nationally for the best graduate-student applicants. While the amount of instructional-fee-scholarship dollars had increased in the previous three years, the level of the resources and pattern of distribution still left most graduate programs at Virginia Tech in a non-competitive position.

Thus, the plan to significantly improve the competitiveness of the financial package offered to prospective graduate assistants was put in place. According to the plan, beginning fall 1994, students on assistantship received a full tuition scholarship for the fall and spring semesters. They are still required to pay comprehensive fees. This plan permitted all graduate assistants to receive financial offers that included stipend plus tuition scholarship. In many departments, the plan placed Virginia Tech financial offers near the median of peer institutions.

The ad-hoc committee will continue to study the impact of the IFS policy on the university.

* Since the University Curriculum Committee has not met, the commission approved eight 4000-level material science and engineering courses for graduate credit, and two 5000-level courses. Larry Harris said he thought the Course Criteria Committee had been deleted. Merola and Eaton said any change that does not change information in the catalog does not have to be approved, and the actions of the curriculum committee do not have to be seconded by University Council, but the committee still exists on a broader scale, with representation from each college.

* Peters said he met with people from the Provost's Office, Wayne Worner, and Peggy Meszaros about the adult and continuing education program. "We agree this is a viable program in terms of numbers of students and degrees granted. We looked at options and agreed to continue discussions before taking any action to shut the program down."

The next meeting of the CGSP will be January 18.