MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVIII No. 4
March/April 2006
Diversification of a University Faculty: Observations on Hiring Women Faculty
in the Schools of Science and Engineering
at MIT
Squeezing Out the Graduate Students
When Disasters Strike!
Faculty Roles in Administration:
A Critical Part of Institute Governance
Why Students Don't Attend Class
Life in the Lowlands
Provost Announces Government Inquiry
Into Lincoln Lab Misconduct Charges
International Students at MIT Post 9/11
A Failure in Communications
Peer Support: Taking Advice from a Friend
Students Need Dental Insurance Plan
International Students at MIT:
Top 10 International Countries Over 10 Years
International Students at MIT:
Top 10 International Countries (2005)
Printable Version


Squeezing Out the Graduate Students

In the early 1980s, MIT was well known as an expensive place to do research. With a high dependence on federal funding, graduate students were very expensive to support. Provost John Deutch made a dramatic improvement in the situation for the faculty by transferring graduate student tuition into the employee benefit pool, but that tactic was eventually disallowed by our federal auditors and costs to research grants and contracts soon escalated. A committee chaired by Professor Robert Weinberg was charged with recommending a long-term solution to the problem, which ultimately led to a tuition remission policy by the Institute.

This policy both removed tuition on graduate students in the summer term and required faculty research grants to cover only 35% of the true cost of tuition, referred to as 65% “tuition remission.” To fund the program, the Institute no longer covered the full costs of NSF and other graduate student fellowship shortfalls, instituted a 10% transaction fee on discretionary funds, stopped paying interest on Pool C investment accounts, and revised its schedule of tuition collection during the academic year. But as our endowment eroded following the .com bubble, and the generally conservative Corporation became nervous, the tuition remission was adjusted to 50%, and then to 45% (last year) to cover the costs of rising student health care coverage.

As a consequence, it now costs $57,598 per year to support a graduate student at MIT, including stipend ($24,588), tuition ($17,765), and F&A ($15,245), among the highest rates in the country.

The transaction fee was not removed nor was the Pool C interest restored.

Some granting agencies, such as the NIH, have a cap on the amount of money they will award to support a graduate student. Others, like NSF, also typically under-fund the cost of graduate student research, at least at the MIT level. In the case of NIH, the direct costs are capped at the minimum starting postdoctoral salary of $36,996, resulting in a gap of $5,357 in direct costs per graduate student. With rising stipend and tuition levels, this gap is likely to widen. In addition, the high cost of research at the Institute puts our faculty in a disadvantageous position with respect to their peers at other institutions. When grant proposal review groups examine our large budgets, they wonder what the relatively high costs reflect, a process that can and has led to recommendations of significant reductions in awarded budget levels for MIT faculty.

Readers with a long history at the Institute may view these facts as old news, and our youngest colleagues on the faculty may be somewhat shielded from these concerns since they run their labs on startup funds. More senior faculty nearing retirement may already be in the process of downsizing their groups and/or switching to more postdoctoral associates. But for the large group of faculty in between, there are once again serious clouds on the horizon. Because of the increase in graduate student tuition, labs are now finding that post-docs are becoming as economical to support as graduate students. As a result, more postdoctoral associates are being appointed and fewer graduate research assistants trained. If we are to retain the talented pool of graduate research assistants who are so essential to the breakthrough research that characterizes MIT, serious action on the part of the senior administration is required in the immediate future to address this issue. Will our newly appointed leaders find the way or will we continue squeezing out the graduate students?

Editorial Sub-Committee
Jonathan King
Stephen J. Lippard
Fred Moavenzadeh
George Verghese

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