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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Graduate students receive more funding for assistantships

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By Rachel Toraño-Mark / New Mexico Daily Lobo

UNM Associate Vice President of the Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis Andrew Cullen explains to the GPSA Council where the recently increased tuition will be allocated. At the Saturday meeting,GPSA President Marisa Silva said $106,000 was allotted to fund graduate assistant positions for the next academic school year. She said this was an increase from this year’s $44,000 allotment.

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More academic opportunities will be available for graduate students next school year as a result of the increase in UNM’s tuition and fees starting the fall semester.

At a meeting Saturday, Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) President Marisa Silva said the University has allotted $106,000 from the recent increase in undergraduate and graduate tuition and fees to fund graduate assistantship positions for the next academic school year. She said $44,000 was allotted for GA positions this year.

At the Board of Regents’ budget summit held April 9, the regents voted to increase tuition for undergraduates who take 15-18 credits by 6.6 percent, which would amount to about a $400 increase per semester. The regents also increased tuition for undergraduates who take 14 credits or less by 13.2 percent, which would amount up to about an $800 increase per semester.

The regents also increased tuition for graduate students by a flat 8.1 percent, regardless of how many credits they take. According to a document handed out during the GPSA meeting, graduate students who take 12 credits will see a tuition increase of $538.56 per semester, those who take nine credits will see an increase of $403.38 per semester, and those taking six credits will see an increase of $268.92 per semester.

Ilse Biel, vice chair of GPSA’s Legislative Steering Committee, said she is still concerned about whether there will be enough money for all of the graduates applying for assistantships because of the high demand for campus jobs.

Biel said she reviewed 76 applications and learned that there were many international students looking for support from their departments. According to the office of graduate studies website, there are currently 1500 teaching graduate assistantships in various departments at the University.

“We’ve just had an award cycle, where students could apply for a one-time assistantship and a significant proportion were international students,” Biel said. “Just reading their personal statements, it was clear that the departments were not able to support these students. The students themselves were no longer financially stable and some of those stories were just really heartbreaking.”

Biel said UNM should rethink its strategy for funding GA positions if there is not enough financial support for the international students.

“I’m personally very concerned about bringing in more international students without being able to sustain them,” Biel said. “They can’t work off campus, so they’re really dependent on these GA and TA jobs.”

Biel said funding for GA positions for international students would affect the retention rate of these students at UNM.

“Because there is increasing need, not just with domestic students but with international students, I feel like policywise, the University needs to rethink it properly before they say ‘Let’s go and internationalize the campus,’” she said.

Also at the meeting, Andrew Cullen, associate vice president of the Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis, discussed the recent one-percent increase in faculty salaries. He said the increase was influenced by neighboring colleges’ faculty pay rates.

“We’re losing some of our best faculty to other schools because they’re offered much better compensation,” Cullen said. “Faculty are a national commodity. “They are certainly willing to pick up and move to the West Coast, East Coast or to places where they can get a better compensation for themselves.”

Cullen said the University will continue to conduct a compensation analysis during the next couple of years to determine how best to pay faculty.

“We will look at the various jobs within the University and compare them locally, regionally, nationally,” he said. “The data hasn’t changed that much since the last 10 years when we did it last. The data suggest that on a national level, our faculty are paid 90 cents on the dollar compared to our peers.”

Cullen said the recent hikes in tuition will also be used to pay for the increase in faculty salaries. But he said this seems to be a problem at UNM.

“This is the hardest situation with tuition at UNM,” he said. “We don’t want to be the most expensive place, we want to be affordable. We have successful core value and that means keeping tuition affordable.”