Plans to phase out mandatory assistant graduate fees now underway

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Collegian | Devin Cornelius

Three protesters lead the Labor Rally group as they march toward the Colorado State University Board of Governors meeting at the Lory Student Center May 3, 2022.

Barnaby Atwood, Staff Reporter

With the start of the spring semester, Colorado State University rolled out its plan to phase out mandatory fees for graduate assistants, starting with 50% of fees covered this semester.

The plan is to gradually cover the mandatory fees of graduate teaching assistants, graduate support assistants and graduate research assistants by the 2025-26 academic year.

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“There have been conversations on campus for quite some time about the compensation that graduate assistants receive,” said Colleen Webb, associate dean of the Graduate School. “Both in terms of their ability to live on what they receive for compensation, as well as the impacts on CSU in terms of recruiting the very best to our graduate programs to ensure that we’re offering competitive compensation.”

“This is one of the few efforts that I’ve seen (that) has been so campus-wide with so many different units involved.” -Colleen Webb, associate dean of the Graduate School

In 2020, the CSU Graduate School released its “Graduate Assistantship Compensation Proposal,” showing CSU has higher graduate fees than its peer universities, which Webb said fueled more discussions on graduate assistant fees.

“Having those conversations on campus, … the right people were in the right places at the right time; we had a perfect storm of interest and ability to address the issues, and we were able to come up with this mandatory fee benefit plan for graduate assistance,” Webb said. “This is one of the few efforts that I’ve seen (that) has been so campus-wide with so many different units involved. It’s been the graduate students, the faculty council, the (Office of the Provost), the (Office of the President), the Office of the Vice President for Research … as well our business offices and IT people who have to implement all of this, and we also had undergrads that were advocating on behalf of graduate students for fees, which I think is wonderful.”

Derek Newberger, the president of the Graduate Student Council, also played a role in helping represent the graduate students. The GSC created a questionnaire at the end of last May asking graduate students how their grad student experience was.

“During the summer, we group those questionnaires together, and there were three main things that people wanted,” Newberger said. “The largest one by far was the student fees. Then it was an increase in compensation or stipend, and the last one is a feeling of isolation grad students feel. So this task of having fees be covered as a benefit by the university was our main goal — is the most important valuable task that grad students have asked the grad student council to help them on.”

Janice Nerger is the interim provost and vice president for academic affairs and also helped in getting the plan in motion.

“It’s not straightforward how to do this; we are not eliminating the fees,” Nerger said. “So what instead has happened is the central administration is paying the fees, so the benefits that the graduate students are paying for, they’re still receiving — it’s just somebody else is paying for those benefits. And that turns out to be a complicated system through the financial system at the university.”

Part of the difficulty came from figuring out how to apply the plan to the different graduate assistants.

“What happened was that we learned that other institutions had found a way for the graduate research assistants to have their fees paid by brands, and we had the understanding that that was impossible,” Nerger said. “It’s the case that GTAs and GRAs should be treated equally. Well, if the GRAs cannot have their fees paid, that would mean the GTAs cannot have their fees paid. The vice president for research (was) able to find a way that that could occur, and so … that is what opened the conversation to a solution.”