The Graduate Faculty Committee members furrowed brows and pursed lips trying to wrap their heads around the recent drop in the number of Project, Teaching and Research Assistants at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
An explanation for this could be the decline in enrollment over the years specifically with undergrads, as a lack of undergrad students equals lack of people to apply for PA, TA and RA positions and a lack of money that the university has to pay for those positions.
“These are very sobering numbers,” said Committee Chair Jason Puskar.
The total number of PA, TA and RAs has dropped 11 percent from the 2013-2014 school year to the 2016-2017 school year, starting at 565 total, down to just over 500.
One way in which the PA, TA and RA deficit was addressed is in the Graduate School SEM End-of-Year report.
Recommendation 18 of the report was to make PA, TA and RA pay competitive with peer institutions. This put in place a baseline stipend rate of $15,000 for all nine-month 50 percent graduate teaching assistant appointments, and created a new base budget of $460,000.
But, still on the list for next year is to acquire additional funding to make TA stipends equal to RA stipends. The Provost and Chancellor have not acted on this yet.
In fall of 2016 undergrad enrollment at UWM was just over 21,000 students. This year, 2017 enrollment has already dropped to barely over 20,000, making it a three percent decrease overall.
Enrollment for grad school at UWM isn’t seeing as big of a loss from 4,639 students in fall 2016 and 4,635 students in fall 2017.
Professor in the Graduate College of Engineering and Applied Science Wilkistar Otieno said that her department currently has just five faculty members for 55 graduate students.
Craig Guilbault from the Graduate College of Mathematical Sciences says his department follows a similar trend.
“We’re looking to be down from 30 mathematicians to barely over 20. We don’t have enough faculty to advise students,” said Guilbault.
However, a couple initiatives were put in place last year to increase enrollment in the Graduate College.
The first was the recruitment of outstanding high school students into a new Integrated Bachelor’s-Master’s degree. These degrees are intended for educationally-motivated students who will have a strong sense of direction as undergraduates, and are interested in proceeding to the graduate level. With this, students are allowed to begin graduate study before completion of the undergraduate degree. This way students are able to graduate in five years with two degrees.
Another initiative was to offer graduate campus tours. This is to give students a closer look into UWM’s campus and graduate programs.
Of the tours, 250 students attended, 148 applied and 90 students enrolled. This program will continue into the 2017-2018 school year.
Another issue the committee discussed is a lack of communicating with students after they’ve graduated.
“Our department did an absolutely terrible job tracking the outcome of our students,” said Jason Puskar, graduate professor in the English department.
The issue is that students and professors fall out of touch after graduation and professors are unaware whether their students are getting jobs, or where they’re getting them.
“We know they’re getting jobs somewhere, we just don’t have a good way of tracking it,” said Peninnah Kako of the College of Nursing.
The university needs this data from students to conduct program reviews, and most of them aren’t tracking it.
“It’s like cleaning your house,” said Puskar, meaning that departments would only need to gather data from students every couple years to avoid reaching a point where they’re completely disconnected from what their students are doing now.
Ideas were tossed around about sending previous students surveys to fill out about where they are now, but that was quickly shut down when representatives from the English and History departments said they received only two responses from surveys over a span of five years.
This is especially difficult when not all students are placed in jobs immediately after graduation. In departments likes Arts and Music this is frequently the case.
The committee agreed the dream would be to keep in ongoing contact with their students to find out where they end up career-wise, but for now they’re just hoping to learn first job placements of their students.