SIUC Graduate Assistants’ benefits comparable to other universities

By Gus Bode

 EIU, WIU have similar fees, healthcare expenses

While Graduate Assistants United union members ask for better healthcare coverage and lower student fees, surrounding universities have similar pre-existing benefits for their graduate students.

GAU President Jim Podesva said union members want to lower out-of-pocket health expenses for health care coverage from $1,000 to $250. Currently, graduate assistants are not offered coverage for pre-existing conditions until they have been in the graduate program for one full year. Podesva said union members want coverage for their pre-existing conditions immediately upon entering the program. He said they also want prescription drug benefits.


Graduate assistants receive the same health care coverage as undergraduate students.

“The graduate assistants tend to be older (than undergraduates),” Podesva said. “We tend to have families. We’re older, and people who are older have different health care needs than people who are 18.”

At Western Illinois University, graduate assistants do not have a union, said Robin Wilt, medical insurance specialist IV at WIU. Wilt said the graduate students are given the same coverage as undergraduates as well. Pre-existing conditions are covered immediately, she said, and there is a $200 deductible, then the university pays approximately 80 percent of the rest of medical bills.

“We do not have coverage for dependents,” Wilt said. “We did in the past, but it was too expensive based on what our claims experience was, and our students weren’t able to afford it because they’re on limited income.”

At Eastern Illinois University, Lennie Heddins, medical insurance manager, said graduate assistants do not have a union, but they receive the same healthcare plan as undergraduates.

“Our plan does not provide prescription drug coverage, but we do not have any pre-existing condition limitations,” Heddins said.

Student fees have gone up by almost 200 percent in the past few years, Podesva said.


The fees are the same for both graduate and undergraduate students. Graduate students, however, receive free tuition plus a stipend. He said the fees are hard for graduate students to pay, though, because they work for nine months of the year, but it is compared to being paid for only seven months.

“This is how we support ourselves, and every time fees go up, we take a pay cut in effect,” Podesva said.

He said he acknowledged that graduate students probably use the same amount of facilities as undergraduates, so the GAU is not trying to get out of paying fees.

“We’re happy to pay for them. What we’re not happy about is the fact that fees have gone up almost 200 percent. It is a question of the university’s priorities with its fees and the fact that it’s gone up,” Podesva said.

Ben Rienbolt, chief clerk in the graduate office at EIU, said undergraduates and graduate students pay the same fees. He said they are based on the amount of credit hours one takes.

Gretchen Sullivan, administrative assistant for the graduate school at WIU, said graduate assistants are responsible for fees based on the number of credit hours they are registered for as well.

“We only cover the tuition portion of their student bill,” she said.