The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences announced plans on Friday to eliminate a controversial tuition fee for graduate students pursuing their studies beyond year six.
The Continuous Registration fee — a $540 payment that all graduate students are required to make each semester from year five onwards — has proven especially irksome to seventh- and eighth-year humanities and social sciences students, who faced significant pay cuts in the wake of a broader budgetary reshuffle approved last spring. In a Friday night email to the graduate student community, Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley wrote that the University will eliminate the CRF — which covers facilities and health insurance costs — for students above year six, as well as refund all seventh- and eighth-year students who paid the fee this past academic year.
“We have learned that most of our peer institutions include such fees in their teaching payments for registered PhD students, and we recognize that the lower rates established this year posed a financial hardship for those who taught,” Cooley told the News.
In her email, Cooley also noted that the advocacy of the Graduate Student Assembly helped sway administrators to eliminate the fee. GSA Chair Elizabeth Salm told the News that the assembly has vigorously lobbied for the change since the cuts were announced last year.
“[The seventh- and eighth-year students’] reduced income was exacerbated by the required $540 per term CRF,” Salm said. “Removing this charge is a step forward in addressing the challenges that students face in finishing their dissertations.”
She added, however, that the GSA will continue to lobby administrators to eliminate the CRF for all students, not just those studying beyond year six.
The push for the elimination of the CRF began in January 2015, when the University announced that seventh-year graduate students in the humanities and social sciences, a group that makes up around 3.5 percent of the total Graduate School population, would no longer receive stipend-level funding for teaching a normal two-course load per semester.
The cuts provoked an angry backlash from graduate student leaders who argued that seventh-year students need to be secure in their finances as they hunt for work in the highly competitive academic job market. But administrators maintained that the pay cuts were crucial to a budgetary compromise that secured stipend-level funding for sixth-year students in the humanities and social sciences. And they pointed out that seventh-year graduate students have the option of teaching three courses per semester in order to achieve stipend-level funding.
But graduate students interviewed over the past two months said the provision of sixth-year funding at the expense of seventh-year students was an unfair arrangement that has left many students financially vulnerable.
In March, before the elimination of the CRF, seventh-year student Matthew Hunter GRD ‘16 told the News that it was misleading to claim that affected students could achieve full funding by teaching three courses per semester.
“It is dishonest of the administration to pretend that the three-course option properly ‘makes up’ for the two-course option when students in their seventh year are required, by the administration, to pay a ‘continuing registration fee’ of over $500 per term in order simply to continue to teach, enjoy library privileges, and work on their dissertations,” Hunter said.
Aaron Greenberg — the chair of Local 33, the unrecognized graduate student union — told the News that although the elimination of the fee represents a step forward, it has not resolved larger problems with the doctoral pay system.
“Their decision to [eliminate the CRF] is a very important step, but our upper-year colleagues still face massive pay cuts,” Greenberg said.
Nearly 3,000 students are currently enrolled in GSAS.