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ASUSU VIEW: Do grad studies matter at USU?

Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2012 11:12

In the last year, Utah State has seen graduate tuition waivers undergo significant changes, the dissolution of the Graduate Student Senate and a continuing slump in graduate students as a percent of total students. Since fall 2004, the USU Logan campus has seen the percentage of graduate students decrease from 11.9 percent to a low of 10.4 percent today. During this period, undergraduates have increased by 10.8 percent while graduate students have decreased by 3.2 percent. In addition, the typical doctoral graduate assistant made $1300 a month in 2012 – with many receiving significantly lower – and the typical master’s graduate assistant made a paltry $400 a month in addition to paying in-state tuition.


When making the case for the new Aggie Recreation Center, Student Services compared our facilities to those of a number of peer institutions. In terms of graduate students, all compared universities had a higher percentage of graduate students than Utah State except for Eastern Washington University with 10 percent. Those institutions are Washington State with 13 percent graduate students, the University of Idaho with 17 percent, Oregon State with 17 percent, Boise State with 12 percent, Colorado State with 14 percent and the University of New Mexico with 18 percent. Utah State cannot compete with peer institutions if we only rival them in recreation centers rather than something as integral as graduate student enrollment and support.


If you are an undergraduate, you might be asking yourself right now, “Why should I care?” There are many reasons why you should. The number and quality of graduate students has a direct impact on you in terms of the quality of research and the number of mentoring opportunities. Graduate students perform research that is equivalent to faculty-level research, meaning the more projects and graduate students a lab has, the more opportunities there are for undergraduates to get involved. Furthermore, if you’ve ever been in a class taught by a graduate instructor, you know what a direct effect they can have on your overall class experience. If your graduate instructor is slaving away for the equivalent of less than $8 an hour, are they going to be able to reach their full potential as teachers?


If you are a graduate student, you are probably already aware of the situation and I’m just preaching to the choir. I know all graduate students are very busy and many don’t see a path to change the current situation. However, there are many actions you can take at your department, college and university level. For example, teaching assistantship salaries are set by the individual departments. Find out the last time TAs got a raise and push for one. Some colleges have graduate councils. Get involved with them where possible and make your own if there isn’t one already.


At the university level we have student government and the Office of Research and Graduate Studies which are there to help assist graduate students. In the summer of 2011, Mark McLellan was hired as the new vice president for research and dean of the School of Graduate Studies. I am very impressed with the work Mark is doing and I know that he cares about graduate students and wants Utah State to become a top-tier research institution. Consider contacting the school of graduate studies directly, or you can contact me, the graduate studies senator, to help find the right people to talk to or navigate the complicated bureaucratic system. You also have your individual college senators who represent graduate students in addition to undergraduates. They can be especially helpful within your own college because they already have established the needed contacts.


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