Good news is here for UNLV’s graduate assistants!
Beginning in fall 2023, graduate assistant (GA) stipends as well as the total number of doctoral graduate assistantships at UNLV will increase after the Nevada Legislature approved funding during its 82nd session.
“Graduate assistants make significant contributions to our university’s teaching and research missions every day, and this legislation is an important step forward in helping us to recruit and retain these talented professionals,” said UNLV President Keith E. Whitfield.
Over the next two fiscal years, UNLV will receive more than $8 million to boost state-funded GA stipends and more than $6 million to increase the number of state-funded doctoral GAs. The disciplinary classifications that UNLV will use to establish doctoral GA stipend amounts are aligned with UNR and use the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) codes developed by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
The funding from the state does not include stipend increases for extramurally funded GA positions; but, each unit will be responsible for bringing all stipends up to the new mandatory minimums, regardless of the funding source. This includes all campus-funded GAs, grant-funded GAs, as well as those funded by gift or program accounts. UNLV will sponsor a transition program during AY23-24 to help ensure that nonstate-funded GA positions are fully supported at the new higher stipend rate for those who are unable to fund these increases through any other means.
“This exciting news recognizes the vital role that graduate assistants play. This support is a necessary step in rendering UNLV more competitive,” said Alyssa Crittenden, vice provost of graduate education and dean of the Graduate College. “We must address the rising cost of living for GAs, who are critical to our mission, community, and Carnegie R1 standing.”
Collaborating Across the Nevada System
The funding comes after years of advocacy and lobbying. In 2021, Nicole Thomas, president of the Graduate & Professional Student Association, approached Whitfield and Kate Korgan, then-vice provost of graduate education and dean of the Graduate College, about increasing GA stipends and was met with a positive response.
"Over the years, we have made substantial investments in our GA program by increasing doctoral stipends, paying nine credits of full tuition and registration fees for GAs, and covering the full cost of GA health insurance. These were important steps in our journey to building an R1 GA program that supports graduate students academically, professionally, and personally, but we knew we had more work to do," said Korgan, now senior vice provost for Academic Affairs. "GAs are the backbone of our campus as scholars, key members of faculty research teams, instructors and mentors to undergraduate students, and professional support for numerous campus units. They deserve this support, and it will help promote their success and well-being."
Thomas began working with Matthew Hawn, Graduate & Professional Student Association president at UNR, to advocate on behalf of GAs at both institutions. She also wrote an op-ed in the Nevada Independent.
In 2022, Korgan and David Zeh, former vice provost of graduate education and dean of the Graduate College at UNR, submitted a proposal to the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents. The Board of Regents then incorporated the GA increases in its budgetary request to the state, which was subsequently adopted in full by Gov. Joe Lombardo as part of his proposed 2023-25 biennium budget.
The collaboration between UNLV and UNR continued since with Crittenden and Markus Kemmelmeier, vice provost of graduate education and dean of the Graduate College at UNR, preparing all joint responses to requests from the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau throughout the legislative session.
UNLV graduate students supported the proposal every step of the way. In addition to writing letters and emails, almost 60 UNLV students traveled to Carson City on March 3 – declared UNLV Student Day at the Legislature – to meet with legislators and advocate for UNLV’s GAs.
Continuing the Efforts
“Our GAs need this pretty desperately. The rate of inflation is happening so quickly that most of our jobs aren’t keeping up. We need enough money to eat, to be able to function,” said Thomas. “We produce skilled labor for the university and community. A lot of the research happening at the university wouldn’t be possible if not for graduate assistants. We’re just asking for the value of their work to be considered.”
While the increases bring UNLV and UNR into closer alignment and make both institutions more competitive, Thomas maintains the work is not done.
“We are so grateful for this. We really needed it, but we’ve been so far behind for so long that we still have more catching up to do with the rest of the nation,” said Thomas. “We’re definitely headed in the right direction.”