May 10, 2004

Graduate school student grants get $4 million boost         

By Eric Rangus

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has increased its stipends and added new fellowships worth $4 million over the next three years. That breaks down to more than $1.3 million of additional funding each year through 2006–07.

“This should be viewed as a first step toward where we really need to be to be fully competitive in graduate education,” said interim Dean Bryan Noe. “In the early 1990s, the graduate school was in good shape financially and kept stipends pretty competitive, but over the decade the funding just didn’t increase commensurately with what was going on at other schools, particularly in the humanities and social sciences.”

That meant the top students saw Emory as a backup. The problem wasn’t that the graduate school’s programs or faculty were second rate. It all came down to money, and other schools were offering more of it.

With the new plan, beginning this fall, the base stipend for graduate students in the humanities and social sciences will increase from $13,000 to $15,000 for both incoming and continuing students, and support terms have been boosted from four years to five for incoming students.

The graduate school also is providing 30 competitive arts and sciences fellowships that add $4,000 to the base stipend. When included with Woodruff and other fellowships already available, Emory now can offer more than 50 special fellowship packages.

“With the special fellowships, we exceed most of the competitors, but not everybody is going to get one,” Noe said. Students receiving those fellowships will get between $19,000 and $20,000 a year total, and nearly half the incoming students will receive some sort of fellowship. The Woodruff fellowships, Emory’s most prestigious, also have been increased—from $4,000 to $5,000 above the base.

The money is coming from several sources. One quarter comes from the graduate school itself, which was able to reallocate some funds because of underenrollment in several programs. One-quarter is coming from Emory College, showing a commitment from Dean Bobby Paul; the other half is from the president’s office.

“We’re very excited that President [Jim] Wagner not only says he wants to support graduate education, he does it,” Noe said. “Even at a time when the University is experiencing budget restrictions, he gave his support to move graduate education ahead.”

This new funding is the culmination of an effort that began in earnest last fall. That’s when graduate departments were asked to poll competitor programs to find out where Emory stood among both its peers and the schools it seeks to emulate. The results were startling.

Funding for Emory graduate students in the humanities lagged an average of $4,366 behind its competitors. Graduate students in the social sciences ($2,016 behind, on average didn’t fare much better). In addition, 81 percent of the competing programs polled offered health insurance to their graduate students; Emory did not. Many offered five years of funding; Emory’s cutoff was four.

“We thought this was a crisis situation,” Noe said, adding that the natural sciences were investigated as well, but since most of those programs’ funding comes from outside sources such as research grants, they are in better shape. “The differential in the humanities and social sciences was huge.”

There is still a long road ahead. Emory still does not provide health insurance for graduate students, and Noe said finding that money will be a project for the upcoming academic years. The graduate school also wants to reach out to alumni and others to help raise funds. Present funding is for three years, so, if the program is to be continued, new money will have to come from somewhere.

“It’s a little bit of a risk to do this, but we felt like we had no choice,” Noe said. “You can’t have superb graduate programs if you don’t have the best students.”

Early indications show some success. Four departments—art history, educational studies, English and philosophy saw at least 75 percent of their special fellowship awardees choose Emory. In English, the figure was 100 percent. Other departments benefited as well.