Editorial: As Texas Tier One university, UTA can afford to compensate graduate students better

As of Monday, 312 professors across various departments have signed a petition asking UTA to use Texas Tier One designation funding toward better stipends for graduate teaching assistants as well as health insurance coverage and full tuition coverage for graduate students, according to previous Shorthorn reporting.

UTA received the designation in August, allowing the university to receive $6.2 million annually starting Sept. 1.

The Shorthorn Editorial Board supports the petition and asks the university to consider better compensation for its graduate teaching assistants. It’s one thing for the university to agree with a petition, but it’s another thing to move the needle and actually support graduate students, who were one of the main contributors to help UTA achieve Texas Tier One designation.

Currently, UTA pays College of Science graduate teaching assistants a monthly stipend of $2,000. But the university only covers 85% of their tuition, leaving them to pay approximately $1,200 for their studies per academic year. Health insurance is deducted from the monthly stipend.

Compared to UTA, other Carnegie Tier One universities pay their graduate students better. The University of Houston pays its graduate assistants up to $2,500 per month, and UT-Austin offers full health care coverage for individual graduate students, according to previous Shorthorn reporting.

If graduate students choose to live on campus, they have to pay approximately $5,000 to $6,500 per academic year to stay in the residence halls, including additional charges for a required meal plan. Then they have to worry about health care.

UTA should be more appreciative of the time and effort graduate students invested in the university to attain a Tier One designation. Otherwise, students may be inclined to choose a university with better pay compensations to put their time, money and effort toward.

Graduate teaching assistants work at most 20 hours per week, according to the university’s website. But a lot goes into that work: they have to help prepare lectures, grade exams and essays, lead class discussions and keep records of students’ progress. If they work overtime, they also don’t get compensated for that work.

On top of that, they still have to maintain a B average or better in all courses.

Working as a graduate student at UTA has its benefits: They have a lot more experience working with professors and students and creating a network with people in the industry they want to work in. And just having a Texas Tier One designation on their resume boosts their chances of getting hired.

But they have to have comfortable living conditions, and they have to retain that passion for their job once they’ve graduated as well. Students cannot fuel their passion for their careers if they keep worrying about their living conditions. Especially international students, who have very few work opportunities off campus.

International students made up between 50% and 82% of the full-time graduate students in key technical fields at U.S. universities in 2019, according to Forbes.

While it’s difficult for UTA to immediately implement changes to the graduate students’ stipend, they could help cover health care and tuition for graduate students or pay more to support them.

The end goal is to support graduate students and give them the most benefits possible, and doing just one of those options would help.

It’s not just the graduate students who are complaining, the faculty members can see it too, judging by the number of signatures the petition has.

The Shorthorn Editorial Board encourages the university to consider the current living conditions of its graduate students and quickly come up with solutions to help them, whether it’s covering more costs or increasing their stipends.

If the university provides better opportunities, more students will choose to study and work at UTA.

The Shorthorn Editorial Board is made up of opinion editor Dang Le; Editor-in-Chief Angelica Perez; associate news editor Cole Kembel; Katecey Harrell, life and entertainment editor; design editor Vivian Santillan; news reporter Taylor Coit; and copy editor Jill Bold. Bold was not present for this editorial decision, and news reporter Mandy Huynh filled in.

opinion-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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