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Provost explains terminal tuition hike


Responding to concerns raised by some faculty and students, Provost John Etchemendy explained the university's reasons for raising terminal graduate student tuition by emphasizing in particular an effort to encourage more timely completion of doctoral degrees.

The Board of Trustees recently approved raising tuition for terminal graduate registration by approximately 50 percent in the next academic year as the second phase of a planned doubling of the rate. The increase will raise tuition from $4,950 to $7,500 for three quarters and will affect doctoral candidates who are still working toward their degree but not taking classes.

Etchemendy announced the terminal graduate registration tuition increase in May 2003 as a way of bringing the tuition on par with some peer institutions and providing an incentive for graduate students to complete their degree in a timelier manner. But he took the opportunity at Thursday's Faculty Senate meeting to remind the university community of the reasons behind the tuition hike after hearing some concerns and questions from faculty and students since the increase was announced two weeks ago.

"People have been asking why is this, and is this unfair, does it make us uncompetitive and so forth," Etchemendy said. "The main reason is to provide an incentive to decrease the time to degree [for Ph.D. students]. It's, I think, in no one's interest for Ph.D. students to remain in the Ph.D. program for six, seven, eight years."

Etchemendy said prolonged courses of study make doctoral students less attractive job candidates and decrease their productivity. Those students also balloon the graduate student population on campus and make it more expensive for the university to subsidize housing for graduate students. The revenue from the tuition increase will help offset that cost, he said.

Etchemendy also told senators that most peer institutions charge full tuition rates until the degree is granted. Stanford's doubling of the terminal graduate rate is on par with Harvard's rate and those of other schools, and is still lower than most, he said.

"I don't see how anybody could argue that this is not competitive," Etchemendy said.

Although the tuition increase has been set, Mark Granovetter, sociology, told Etchemendy and the senate that it is common in many fields for students to take six or seven years to work on a dissertation and that those who do often do better on the labor market because their dissertations are more polished.

"We don't see that it makes sense for us to push people to finish in a period of time which will disadvantage them when they go out looking for a job," said Granovetter. "So what that means is that the burden of this additional tuition will fall differentially among departments. And I'm not sure what to do about that."

In other senate business, the Committee on Undergraduate Admission and Financial Aid reported that the formal dissolution of the President's Scholars program with the current freshman class did not appear to have a significant impact on the overall yield of students who entered the university. The program was formed in 1995 as an admission tool to bring in the top 200 admits with research grants and generous financial aid but was partially disbanded last year in response to criticisms that the program created an intellectual elite of students and that it prompted some students who were not chosen as President's Scholars to reject their standard admission offer.

But rather than disband the program entirely, the Office of Undergraduate Admission ran a shadow program that kept track of the "would-be" scholars from the Class of 2007. According to psychology Professor Hazel Markus, chair of the committee, 46 percent of those students entered the university, compared with 45 and 45.5 percent of actual President's Scholar-designees the previous two years.

"What this shadow program study suggests is that awarding the President's Scholar designation is really of little value to increasing our yield," Markus said. "Instead, the admissions office now appropriately emphasizes that ... all admitted undergrads who want to do research will find the support to do so."