(Editor's Note: The tables that go with this story are not available on the internet. For the complete story, including tables, please request a copy of the 6/6 issue of Inside Illinois. Call 217-333-2895.)
There are three categories of graduate student assistants at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: teaching assistants (TAs); research assistants (RAs); and graduate assistants (GAs), students who serve in administrative support positions in academic and administrative units.
Share of Teaching
In 1994-95, teaching assistants taught 31.7 percent of the credit hours taken by undergraduates. This was down slightly from the 33.6 percent and 34.4 percent of five and 10 years earlier. Tenure-track faculty members taught 56.3 percent of all credit hours; lecturers, instructors, academic professionals and administrators taught the remaining 12 percent. (See Table 1 for the actual number of hours taught.)
The Framework for the Future commits the campus to "move as quickly as possible toward competitive stipends for graduate assistants" as part of a general program of increasing fellowship support, graduate assistant stipends and benefits. That commitment, which represents an intensified effort begun several years ago to catch up with peer institutions, complements the campus's emphasis on competitive salaries for faculty members, since both groups are recruited in national markets.
The provost has announced a 4 percent raise for all categories of graduate student assistants in 1996-97, contingent upon state appropriation for stipends and salaries of 3 percent. (See Table 2 for a history of student stipends since 1990.)
--Teaching Assistants. Since 1990, TA stipends have increased 27.3 percent; faculty salaries have risen 24.5 percent. At the same time, state funds for stipend/salary support have increased just 9.3 percent. (See Table 2.) Primarily through internal reallocation, the campus makes up the difference between what it pays out in stipends and salaries and what it receives from the state. By cutting expenditures for supplies and services, and by reducing faculty and non-faculty staff positions, the campus has shifted $51.9 million in recurring funds since 1990 to support the academic budget. This has meant a reduction of 100 faculty and 428 non-faculty full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, or 5.8 percent of all FTE. (Since 1988, the faculty has been reduced by 170 positions.) Part of the competitiveness program has included raising minimum stipends for graduate student assistants. The minimum, currently $7,500 for half-time assistants in all three categories, will rise to $9,000 in 1998-99. (See Table 3.)
--Research Assistants. RA average stipends have increased 21.5 percent since 1990. During that time, the amount the campus has received annually for grants and contracts, which provide most RA stipends, has risen 19.4 percent, from $154.6 million to $184.6 million.
--Graduate Assistants. GA average stipends have increased 21.4 percent since 1990. The budgets for the academic and administrative units in which they serve have shrunk because those units have contributed significantly to the reallocation process described earlier.
Graduate student assistants pay $708 annually in fees, the same amount all students pay. The fees cover a number of student services and local transportation; $250 of the total goes for health insurance and the McKinley Health Center.
For 1996-97, the health insurance benefits have been enhanced and dental insurance has been added, at no additional cost to graduate assistants. This represents an additional cost to the campus of $390,000.
Teaching Assistant Populations
Illinois is about average among Big Ten universities in the number of teaching assistantships it offers as a proportion of its graduate and professional student population, but it has relatively more TAs per undergraduate than most Big Ten schools. TAs are 24.4 percent of the graduate student population at Illinois, compared with 13.8 percent at Wisconsin and 12.1 percent at Michigan. There are also more TAs at Illinois in proportion to the undergraduate population, 38.8 per 1,000, compared with 27.5 at Michigan and 25.8 at Wisconsin. (See Table 4.)
Net cash payments, which indicate stipends minus required tuition and fees, provide a more realistic basis for comparison of graduate student support than gross stipends. Wisconsin, for example, does not waive in-state tuition for graduate assistants. It ranks first in the Big Ten in gross stipends for TAs, but is fifth in net cash payments.
The net cash payments to graduate student assistants at Illinois were sixth best among the nine Big Ten universities reporting stipends to the Association of American Universities for 1995-96. Net cash payments at Illinois trailed the Big Ten leader by $1,079, Michigan by $914 and Wisconsin by $377. (See Table 5.) Table 6 portrays the net cash paid to graduate student assistants in all three categories at the universities of Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. Michigan, which has the highest net cash payments of the three universities, also has the fewest assistants. Illinois has the most. As a result, Illinois spends the most on net cash payments to graduate assistants, $46.7 million, versus $34.7 million for Wisconsin and $26.7 million for Michigan. To equal the net cash payments to all categories of graduate assistants at Michigan in 1995-96, Illinois would have needed to spend $51.9 million to Michigan's $26.7 million.