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Senate 2007-2008
May 27, 2008, Volume 54, No. 34

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Report of the Faculty Senate Committee on Students and Educational Policy (SCSEP)

Charges for 2007-2008
This academic year the Senate Committee on Students and Educational Policy (SCSEP) was asked to (1) examine and work out specific areas of interest to be included in a confidential University-wide survey of graduate and professional education to be administered to students and their advisors, (2) examine the current status and future trajectory of funding for graduate education across the Schools, especially in light of graduate tuition reform, (3) conduct an examination of intellectual property rights in the classroom, and (4) review and discuss the Committee’s general charge and identify the most pressing issues facing the faculty, students and educational programs over the next few years, recommending two or three high-priority charges for 2008-2009.

Graduate Tuition Reform
The Committee’s work focused almost entirely on the second charge listed above and in particular on the complex and ongoing graduate tuition reform process. The Committee met in fall 2007 to discuss the structure and implications of graduate tuition reform with Associate Provost for Education Andy Binns and with Director of Budget Planning Francesca Seidita. The Committee also met with a representative of the Graduate and Professional Students Association (GAPSA) on two occasions to discuss both the tuition reform and the status of graduate funding in general. Documents relevant to these issues from the Associate Provost’s office, from the office of Jack Nagel, Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences, and from GAPSA were reviewed and discussed by the Committee.

As a consequence of its discussions in fall 2007, the Committee determined that the implications of graduate tuition reform should be brought formally to the attention of the faculty during the academic year. Accordingly, SCSEP presented an interim report on graduate tuition reform to the Senate Executive Committee (SEC) in February 2008. The full interim report was also provided to Associate Provost Andy Binns and a summary of the report was published in Almanac (February 26, 2008). The interim report cited a number of concerns about the tuition reform and its effects on graduate education. Among these were the motivation for undertaking the reform, the future stability of funding at the School level, the financial effects of the reform on late-term graduate students, and the need for a formal review of the effects of reform after three years. In response to the interim report, Senate Chair Larry Gladney and SCSEP received communication from the Office of Associate Provost Binns providing extensive additional background on the academic motivation for graduate tuition reform and providing assurances that the Provost intends to maintain the overall level of funding to the Schools under the new tuition system.

The present report is a revision of SCSEP’s interim report. Here, we highlight the academic motivation ultimately behind graduate tuition reform and the potential for beneficial effects of the reform on graduate education at Penn. Nonetheless, because graduate tuition reform is an ongoing and complex process involving many changes at both the University and School levels, SCSEP stops short of endorsing all details of graduate tuition reform on behalf of the faculty. Instead, we argue strongly for continued engagement of faculty with the tuition reform process, and we identify specific areas that need the attention of faculty as graduate tuition reform at Penn continues to be fashioned and implemented.

Our report focuses on PhD education and addresses the following questions:

1) What is the current system of graduate tuition and associated fees at Penn?

2) What is the motivation for reforming the current graduate tuition system?

3) What is the new graduate tuition system and when will it be implemented?

4) What aspects of the new system are beneficial for graduate education?

5) What aspects of the new system are problematic for graduate education?

We call upon the Provost to consult with the faculty in establishing and committing to a timeline and guidelines for assessment of the effects of graduate tuition reform. We conclude with specific recommendations for future engagement of the faculty with the tuition reform process and with recommended charges for SCSEP for the coming year.

1) What is the current system of graduate tuition and associated fees at Penn? The tuition cost of a PhD varies widely across the University. For all nine PhD-granting Schools, the current initial cost of graduate tuition is set centrally at $4,258 per credit. In the School of Arts and Sciences, this initial per-credit cost is charged until a student has accumulated 20 course units and has passed the examinations for candidacy (typically three years); after this, tuition is held steady at the greatly reduced “high-dissertation” rate of $2,839 per semester for five semesters, then it declines to the “low-dissertation” rate of $639 per semester for the remainder of the student’s tenure. Other programs require more course units for the PhD and hence have higher total tuition charges per student that are more consistent across the years required to obtain the PhD. In the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, for example, 40 course units across five years are required for the PhD; in the Biomedical Graduate Sciences Division of the School of Medicine, 30 course units across five years are required. For all Schools, there currently exists a complex system of financial transfers between School and University in which tuition monies obtained by the School are taxed 20% by the central administration and then the tax is returned in the form of Provost subventions of tuition and of other graduate education costs.

An additional cost in support of graduate education is the General Fee, which supports University-wide services such as student government and student health service. Under the current system, the General Fee is assessed at $2,010 per student per year for PhD students in coursework and usually does not apply after year three.

Actual sources of graduate tuition and fee payment vary greatly among and within Schools. For students on full, University-provided fellowships, no funds for tuition or General Fee flow to the University from outside sources. For students on outside fellowships or who are supported by external grant funding, however, the costs cited above take the form of income to the University.

2) What is the motivation for reforming the current graduate tuition system? Ultimately, graduate tuition reform is motivated by academic concerns raised by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education during its 2004 review and accreditation of the University of Pennsylvania and by a self-study document prepared by the University in anticipation of the Middle States review. Citing concerns about the ease of interdisciplinary graduate study and the flexibility of graduate programs of study in general at Penn, the Middle States Commission strongly recommended “that Penn give serious consideration to replacing the [current] system with one in which each student is charged a flat amount for each academic year in which he or she is a full-time student; the academic unit, in cooperation with the Provost’s office, would set requirements for the PhD that are appropriate for the academic unit.” In response to the Middle States review, a working group from the Council of Graduate Deans and the University’s Office of Budget and Management Analysis, led by Associate Provost Binns, met during the past two academic years to formulate a graduate tuition reform plan.

Increased efficiency and financial transparency are also evident as reasons for reforming the current graduate tuition system. Taxing the Schools for graduate tuition and then returning this tax via subvention mechanisms is arguably unnecessary and inefficient. Moreover, justifying divergent costs of PhD tuition to government and other external funding agencies that may be required simultaneously to fund students from different Schools is problematic. Both of these problems are potentially resolved by switching to a system that has the broad features described by the Middle States Commission.

3) What is the new graduate tuition system, and when will it be implemented? The basic features of the graduate tuition reform plan are as follows:

a) A standard tuition charge of $24,000 per year will apply to all students for the first five years (total of 30 course units), except for programs requiring a Masters degree for entrance, in which tuition would be charged at the standard rate for three years. For students supported on grants, tuition costs may be matched at the School level: For example, the School of Arts and Sciences will provide a 3:1 match of tuition costs for students supported on grants in their first five years, reducing the tuition cost for advisors of such students to $6,000 per year.

b) A reduced standard tuition charge of $3,000 per year will apply for all students from years six to ten (or four to seven in programs with the three-year $24,000 charge). In addition, enrollment for the PhD will be capped at a maximum of ten years, although students beyond ten years may apply for recertification and completion of the PhD.

c) The General Fee will be assessed at $2,000 for the first five years and $500 from years six to ten.

d) The internal 20% Provost tax on tuition will be eliminated, along with the multiple existing subvention mechanisms that return this tax (and more) to the Schools.

e) PhD education will continue to be supported by the central administration through a simpler lump annual sum amount to the Schools for graduate student aid. Initially, the Schools will be held financially harmless under the new system.

The new tuition system will become effective for AY 2009—that is, beginning July 1, 2008. Numerous details of its implementation at the School level, however, remain to be put in place.

4) What aspects of the new system are beneficial for graduate education? As noted above, increased access to interdisciplinary study at the graduate level and increased flexibility of course requirements in graduate programs of study were the major academic motivations for reforming the graduate tuition system. Both of these will be well served by the new tuition system: Abolishing current course-unit requirements for the PhD (e.g., 20 course units to advance to PhD candidacy in SAS) would provide considerably enhanced flexibility to graduate groups in how they design their course requirements for PhD students. Students would no longer necessarily be required to complete coursework in their first three years, and the total number of required course units could be adjusted upward or downward as each program saw fit. Such changes could enhance both the educational experience of graduate students and the attractiveness of graduate programs to prospective students. Changes to the relevant rules for the PhD are currently under consideration by the Graduate Council of the Faculties and are to be decided on in a joint meeting of the Graduate Council of the Faculties and the Council of Graduate Deans in May 2008.

5) What aspects of the new system are potentially problematic for graduate education?

Stability of funding for graduate programs: Because all Schools currently receive more back in various subventions from the Provost’s Office than they pay out in graduate tuition tax, on first analysis it appears that the Schools will lose money as a consequence of the tuition reform plan. As mentioned above, though, the administration’s goal is initially to hold the Schools harmless financially under the new system by providing each a sufficient lump sum for graduate student aid. Moreover, SCSEP has received assurances that the Provost is committed to maintaining such strong overall support for graduate programs in the Schools in the foreseeable future. The Provost has provided no assurance that all existing Schools or graduate programs will continue to receive funding commensurate with their current level of support, and SCSEP acknowledges that it is the Provost’s prerogative to make decisions on which Schools and graduate programs are performing well and which are not, and adjust levels of support accordingly. However, the Committee strongly recommends that the metrics to be used in making such decisions be communicated clearly to graduate programs before any decisions on changes in funding levels are taken. SCSEP calls upon the Provost to consult with the faculty on the assessment of graduate group performance and to provide graduate programs with a clear set of criteria by which success in graduate education, and possible future changes in funding status, will be assessed.

Increased costs to late-term graduate students: Under the new graduate tuition system, annual costs to late-term students (those beyond year six) will increase from the current $1,278 (low-dissertation status tuition, no General Fee) to $3,500 ($3,000 tuition plus the new $500 General Fee beyond year five). This increased late-term cost will fall especially hard on the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS), in which approximately 16 percent of PhD students remain enrolled beyond year six. Although SAS Associate Dean for Graduate Studies Jack Nagel has led successful efforts to decrease average time to the PhD in most of the School’s graduate programs, it is questionable whether programs currently requiring extended international fieldwork, multiple language competencies, and similar long-term commitments in order to attain the PhD will see reductions to below seven years in their average times to degree without substantial curricular changes. SAS has implemented relief from the cost increase for current late-term students as a transitional measure, but a longer termsolution is needed. SCSEP calls upon incoming SAS Associate Dean for Graduate Studies Ralph Rosen to work with SAS graduate chairs to find ways to decrease time to degree in the affected programs without decreasing the quality of graduate education.

Financial Arrangements for Recipients of External Fellowships
Because the average time to degree in many SAS graduate programs is six and more years and the University provides support for a maximum of five years, external fellowship support plays a critical financial role in helping many students to complete the PhD. SCSEP has learned that a common strategy employed by graduate students in pursuit of competitive external fellowship support is to begin applying for such support for years four and five. By applying early, of course, students give themselves multiple chances for success. In addition, students who accept external fellowships in year four or five (or both) may then be able to count on the remainder of the University’s five-year fellowship commitment to support a sixth and even seventh year of study, free of worries about funding. The way in which financial arrangements for such recipients of external fellowships in years four and five will be handled under the new tuition system is a matter of concern to the Committee, given that tuition during these years increases from $5,678 per year ($2,839 per semester) to $24,000 per year and the General Fee increases from $0 to $2,000 per year. When asked about this in a meeting with SCSEP, Associate Provost Binns expressed his opinion that Graduate Deans would be likely to waive tuition in cases in which a student had received a competitive external fellowship. Currently developing SAS policy on this matter, however, is unclear. According to a draft memo of April 18, 2008 from outgoing SAS Associate Dean Jack Nagel on graduate tuition reform policies within SAS, external fellowships that supply partial tuition support in addition to stipend, health insurance and General Fee will indeed be matched for the remaining tuition by SAS. However, SAS policy concerning fellowships that provide only stipend support is less favorable, and it appears that a fellowship recipient could be liable for the remaining costs—nearly $30,000 per year in years four and five, including health insurance—unless the graduate group itself has sufficient funds to make up the difference. Moreover, SAS policy on the circumstances under which recipients of external fellowships in the fourth or fifth year still remain entitled to five full years of support from the University is also unclear; it is conceivable that recipients of some fellowships in their fourth or fifth year could be denied University support beyond year five. All of the above considerations suggest that there may be cases under the new tuition system in which a student could be forced to decline an external fellowship and face the prospect of a foreshortened time to degree—hardly a desirable academic outcome.

For SAS students who receive external fellowships in year six or beyond, another gap in policy may apply: where such a fellowship only covers partial costs, SAS policy appears to shift the remaining costs to the graduate group or the student rather than to match them at the School level. As noted above, the costs of tuition and General Fee are substantially higher under the new tuition system than under the old system after year six. SCSEP believes that students who receive competitive external fellowships in years six and later should be considered for tuition waivers and other forms of assistance from the School and the University under the new graduate tuition system. Charging tuition and associated costs in such cases sends precisely the wrong signal to graduate students and programs who have successfully competed for external support under circumstances in which the PhD typically takes more than five years to complete.

We urge that SAS and other policies concerning support for all recipients of external competitive fellowships be reviewed to ensure that the primary motivation for such policies is academic rather than financial.

Graduate health insurance: Health insurance is provided for graduate students on University fellowship support, and most external fellowships and grants provide sufficient funding to cover the cost of health insurance. However, graduate students supporting themselves in later years, and some students on less substantial external fellowships, are liable for the full cost of health insurance. SCSEP recognizes that health insurance always represents a real cost to the University (unlike graduate tuition) and that adjustments to the cost of health insurance are not part of the graduate tuition reform. Nonetheless, the Committee feels that the University has a moral obligation to ensure that all graduate students are covered by health insurance until they receive the PhD; this becomes especially important in those programs of study whose time to degree greatly exceeds the five year term of University fellowship support. To some extent, of course, the problem of health insurance coverage for graduate students beyond year five could be ameliorated by reduction in time to degree in the relevant programs, as discussed above.

Graduate Tuition Reform: Conclusion and Recommendations
SCSEP recognizes the important academic motivations behind graduate tuition reform and has concluded that this reform will have significant positive effects on opportunities for interdisciplinary training, flexibility of graduate programs of study, and the overall simplicity and transparency of financial transactions concerning graduate tuition at the University. Indeed, when combined with the increase in graduate stipend support provided by the University in the past year, the tuition reform potentially sets the stage for major improvements in graduate education at Penn.

Nonetheless, SCSEP has concluded that a number of important issues concerning graduate tuition reform remain unresolved. While this is perhaps inevitable due to the complex and ongoing nature of the reform, SCSEP is unwilling to fully endorse the reform on behalf of the faculty while such issues remain. The Committee’s chief concerns are as follows: 1) the nature of metrics to be used by the Provost in future evaluations of graduate programs and their possible tie to adjustments in funding to such programs under the new graduate tuition system; 2) the increased late-term cost of graduate education under the new system and its influence on the nature of graduate programs that require lengthy periods of study before the PhD; and 3) financial arrangements for recipients of external fellowships under the new tuition system, especially arrangements for those recipients whose fellowships do not cover tuition and General Fee and those recipients whose fellowships apply to year six and beyond.

We recommend that thorough assessments of the positive and potential negative impacts of graduate tuition reform be planned and conducted by the University administration in full consultation with the faculty, and we call upon the Provost to work with the faculty to establish and commit to a timeline and a clear set of criteria by which such assessments will be made. Because the implications of the reform will take some time to work through the graduate education system at Penn, a full assessment before year three after implementation (AY 2012) would probably be premature, but interim assessments are likely to be necessary, especially in the case of Schools such as SAS that are likely to be most strongly affected by the reform.

SCSEP urges the faculty, and especially graduate group chairs and department chairs, to remain engaged with the tuition reform process as it proceeds to implementation on July 1, 2008 and beyond. Again, such engagement will be particularly important within SAS, the School likely to be most strongly affected by the reform. We urge incoming SAS Associate Dean for Graduate Studies Ralph Rosen to work closely with graduate group chairs in order to minimize any potential negative impacts of the reform.

Recommendations for Next Year’s Committee
The Committee recommends that SCSEP continue to examine the implications of graduate tuition reform in the coming academic year, with a particular focus on the influence of the reform in SAS. We recommend that next year’s Committee work with SAS graduate chairs and with incoming SAS Associate Dean for Graduate Studies Ralph Rosen on the implications of tuition reform for the School of Arts and Sciences and in particular on its implications for those programs currently requiring long times to degree.

As a second charge, the Committee recommends that SCSEP conduct an examination, in consultation with the Office of University Counsel, of Intellectual Property Rights in the classroom. Such an examination should include, but not necessarily be limited to, consideration of copyright issues concerning lecture materials and recordings of lectures and consideration of the implications of self-publication of textbooks by professors for use in the classroom.

2007-2008 Committee Members
Paul Sniegowski, School of Arts and Sciences/Biology, Chair
David Brownlee, School of Arts and Sciences/History of Art
Paul Heiney, School of Arts and Sciences/Physics
Kelly Jordan-Sciutto, School of Dental Medicine
Sarah Kagan, School of Nursing
Michael Zuckerman, School of Arts and Sciences/History

Senate Chair, Larry Gladney, School of Arts and Sciences/Physics
Senate Chair-elect, Sherrill Adams, School of Dental Medicine


Almanac - May 27, 2008, Volume 54, No. 34