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Improving the graduate student experience at the U

Graduate students are at a crisis point. In the past few years, financial support has failed to keep up with the rising cost of living in the Salt Lake Valley. To address the issue, President Taylor Randall formed the 2023 Presidential Task Force on Graduate Student Support and charged the task force with making recommendations to improve graduate student recruitment, research productivity, retention, completion rates and student outcomes.

“This is a challenging problem,” said U Provost Mitzi Montoya. “We are doing our best to address issues like food and housing insecurity, so students don’t have to drop out of school.”

Many graduate students at the U are paid stipends or fellowships to contribute to the U’s teaching and research missions.

“We want to better support these researchers. Our graduate students enrich the lives of undergraduate students and contribute to the career success of faculty and staff. The U immeasurably benefits from recruiting and retaining talented graduate students on campus,” said Randall.

“We want our graduate students to do more than survive—we want them to prosper. They need a healthy environment to be able to graduate on time and be successful,” said Dave Kieda, current dean of the Graduate School and co-chair of the 2023 Presidential Task Force on Graduate Student Support. “Our students are going to do something transformational with their degrees. We want to keep our relationship going long after they move on from the U.”

Task force members spent months reviewing university policies and speaking to graduate students about their experience. In the process of creating recommendations, the task force considered what the U could do to mitigate graduate student housing issues in the short and long term.

“The financial challenges of increasing graduate stipends and other forms of compensation are both a national and local problem. We have to look at our own community where inflation and the cost of living are significantly stressing graduate students’ ability to afford to attend the University of Utah. Therefore, improving graduate student salaries, and keeping other costs low, is critical to assure that we can attract and retain the best young talent,” said Darryl Butt, future dean of the Graduate School and co-chair of the task force.

The report offered many recommendations that are still being reviewed, and the task force will continue to make suggestions. Below are the recommendations that have already been approved.

  • Eliminate the current 20% health insurance fee to bolster student take-home pay.
  • Create a temporary reduction in rent for graduate students currently living in the Medical Plaza moving to new U graduate housing.
  • Beginning fall 2023, grad student stipends will increase to at least $20,000/9 months. Students on partial student grad student stipends will also receive proportionally scaled increases.
  • Improve student insurance plan to cover 90% of prescription cost and add university-wide paid graduate student parental leave (implemented fall 2022).
  • Colleges or departments will be encouraged to provide one-time payments to help incoming students relocate to the U.

Follow news from the Presidential Task Force on Graduate Student Support here.