Koropchak attempts to keep Graduate School alive

By Gus Bode

Graduate School dean hopes he can keep the graduate assistantships coming in future years with proposal

Assistantships for this year have experienced significant cutbacks, but improvements for next year’s program are already underway.

John Koropchak, vice chancellor of Research and the dean of the Graduate School, is already attempting to secure more money for next year, despite Chancellor Wendler’s recent request for campus units to make 5- to 10-percent budget cuts for fiscal year 2004.

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Those cuts are in addition to the more than $1 million cut from department budgets last spring.

But Koropchak said he has a proposal to increase state money available for teaching assistantships by 10 percent for next year. The proposal is intended to increase the competitiveness of the stipends SIUC offers. Those stipends, averaging $11,000 per year contract, are at or below those offered at peer institutions.

The proposal will be reviewed at the Dean’s Retreat next month and will be passed on to the Illinois Board of Higher Education and state legislature if approved.

Koropchak said the budget cut request should not affect his new proposal.

“It may be that to get those cost savings, we have to look at higher levels of administration,” he said. “If the cuts come from graduate assistantships, that would be of great concern to me.” Nearly all of the $1.2 million secured from the recent tuition increase went toward graduate teaching assistantships this year, which account for more than 50 percent of the total available graduate positions. Since teaching positions are for discussion sections or lab sections for undergraduate classes, fewer assistantships mean fewer undergraduate course sections.

Because of the importance of these assistantships to the University, Chancellor Wendler made the decision to make it a high priority to devote $1.2 million from the increased tuition money to graduate assistantships.

The Graduate School deficit was $2 million, however, so graduate assistantship funding is $800,000 below what it was last year, despite the added tuition funding. This difference translates into about 75 to 80 fewer assistantships that will be available to graduate students, compared to the 1,564 available last fall.

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The initial estimate of the assistantship deficit made by the Graduate School in January was $1.2 million. Most of the assistantship availability is determined at or before that time, so potential graduate students can be notified of possible assistantship offers with their acceptance notices.

Many graduate students receive their acceptance into the Graduate School accompanied with assistantship offers. Unlike undergraduate assistantships, graduates receive tuition waivers as well as salaries, a typical practice at research universities.

The proportion of graduate students with families and other financial obligations is higher than that of undergraduate students, making the salary and waiver combination an extremely important factor in many graduate students’ ability to attend SIU.

Christine Hinkle has been a computer lab assistant in the College of Education and Human Services for three semesters. Hinkle said she probably would have gone to a different university or simply looked for a job if she had not received an assistantship at SIUC.

“They’re very hard to come by for the fall,” Hinkle said.

Many were turned down for assistantships this year. Sandy Hostetler, the person in charge of hiring assistants for the lab where Hinkle works, said she had 19 or 20 applications, yet was only able to hire one graduate student.

Koropchak hopes the proposal will help assure the future availability of assistantships in the Graduate School.

The average percentage of graduate students who have assistantships at other research universities is about 70 percent, whereas at SIU the percentage is closer to 55 percent, according to Koropchak.

Reporter Evan Rau can be reached at [email protected]

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