Information on Graduate Assistantships
Editor’s note: the following information was updated to provide clarity regarding the amount of stipend increases.
Graduate assistants are vital members of the Virginia Tech community, contributing many valuable services to the university. Virginia Tech is deeply committed to their personal, academic, and professional success.
Graduate education is a critical element of the mission of Virginia Tech as a global land grant, R1 research university. Our ability to attract, educate, and graduate talented graduate students is dependent upon a variety of factors, including institutional reputation, faculty expertise, and financial support. Accordingly, Virginia Tech continuously works to offer a competitive, holistic compensation package to graduate assistants that benefits students and the university.
To gain a deeper understanding of this issue, first, some important context is required:
- An assistantship, as the title implies, is first and foremost a developmental opportunity for graduate students to expand their education and skills in teaching and, often, research, while providing financial support (a stipend) to be used in combination with other sources of support, including educational loans and fellowships.
- The stipend is coupled with a full waiver of tuition and required educational fees, and graduate assistants have the option to participate in the university’s subsidized health insurance program in which the university pays 88 percent of the overall cost of the insurance plan as part of the broader compensation program. (One may choose to decline participation in the insurance program.)
- Assistantships come with a part-time university service expectation of 20 hours per week.
- This university service, though at times related, is separate from efforts towards individual achievements such as dissertation research.
- Accordingly, assistantships are not simply wages in exchange for work. Assistantships provide basic support for part-time university service over the academic (9-month) or calendar (12-month) year, as determined by the graduate student and his or her supervisor, while engaging the student in mentorship and training in their respective fields of study.
In the current fiscal year, Virginia Tech provides approximately $131 million in total support to the approximately 2,000 graduate assistants participating in university-funded assistantships. Those amounts do not include additional, significant support from externally sponsored research programs that further support and benefit graduate assistants.
In fiscal year 2023, on average and depending upon the specific graduate program, Virginia Tech invested between $39,467 and $41,467 for each in-state graduate assistant, and between $54,213 and $56,763 for each out-of-state graduate assistant. (This assumes the graduate assistant has opted into the health insurance program.) These amounts are expected to increase in fiscal year 2024 due to compensation and benefit enhancements.
Charting the progress
In 2019, Virginia Tech commissioned a task force focused on advancing graduate education. In its 2020 report, the task force made 14 recommendations including several that addressed financial support. Intentional and steady progress has been made to address many of these recommendations.
One recommendation called to reduce tuition for graduate students who have progressed to “candidacy status” which involves the final phase of study when dissertation research is being conducted. Beginning in fall 2021, a discounted tuition rate was approved for students in candidacy status. The university continues to explore ways to expand this program.
In spring 2022, another task force was tasked to develop recommendations specifically addressing financial support for graduate students. Their report was submitted in spring 2023 and contained recommendations that included:
- An immediate enhancement of minimum stipends to $2,400 per month.
- Waiving the comprehensive fee.
- Providing summer support.
- Increasing external funding support.
In its review of the report, the university found some of the recommendations were not feasible. Waiving the comprehensive fee, for example, would either shift the cost of these universal services to all other students, or restrict the access of graduate assistants from services that have been developed over time at the request of the student community, including health, wellness, and transportation. Neither of these outcomes is beneficial to the community at large.
Other recommendations in this report serve as aspirational goals for future development. Providing more summer support and increasing extramural support are recommendations that the university is actively working to pursue.
Still other recommendations were implemented immediately. Effective fall 2023, for example, the university raised the minimum graduate assistant stipend to $2,420 per month.
Virginia Tech anticipates further progress in graduate assistant compensation will be achieved based on the successive 5 percent increases (on average) in stipends approved over the last several years; the increase in the minimum stipend; and the actions taken by a number of academic programs to increase minimum stipends further, including notification of faculty that budgets of future grant applications must be sufficient.
Even though significant progress and record investments have been made, additional work remains. The university is committed to continued progress designed to improve our competitiveness for graduate student talent.