Chapter 3 - Graduate Student Financial Support
Search the Handbook
3.1 - Fellowships
The term fellowship is usually associated with a named funding source. When this source is outside the University or from an endowment, the fellowship may pay tuition and fees and is not considered a graduate assistantship. When the funding source is the university, the fellowship is considered a research assistantship. Generally these awards are made prior to a student enrolling in Iowa State as a recruiting inducement. A partial list of university funded graduate fellowships follows:
Plant Sciences Fellowships: Research assistantships offered to outstanding graduate applicants in the plant sciences.
Fellowships Associated with Federal Training Grants: Various federal agencies have grant programs for funding graduate student participation in research.
3.2 - Graduate Assistantships
A graduate assistant (GA) performs duties that contribute significantly to their graduate education. Students holding assistantships are considered to be in training, and the graduate assistantship is a form of student aid that combines training with income. The standard appointment is 1/2-time and the official university guideline suggests 20 hours per week should be spent on assistantship duties, but this expectation varies depending on the nature of the assistantship. Three types of graduate assistantships are available. These are research, teaching, and administrative. Students hired to teach or to perform research that is part of their educational program should be hired as graduate assistants, not as hourly employees, unless those duties do not involve ISU facilities or faculty supervision.
Generally, only students with full or provisional admission status are eligible to hold graduate assistantships. Only degree-seeking students (Ph.D. and master’s degrees) may be appointed to a graduate assistantship. An assistantship awarded to a graduate student on restricted admission status or on probation must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate College term-by-term (each semester or each summer session). The graduate assistant on restricted admission status or on probation will be assessed full resident tuition but will not receive a Graduate tuition scholarship. The Graduate College requires that graduate assistants register for a minimum of one credit each term that they hold an appointment.
3.2.1 Types of Assistantships
Graduate Administrative Assistantships
An administrative assistant (AA) performs duties that contribute indirectly to a student’s education. Duties vary widely from gathering, organizing, and analyzing information to working with students and performing routine research support activities. It is expected that AA duties will contribute in a general way to a student’s education and that these positions will draw upon a student’s disciplinary expertise. An AA’s duties will generally not lead to a dissertation or thesis. Because most AA’s work in a structured environment, the AA may be required to appear at specified times and coordinate their work with the employing unit. Any graduate assistantship that is not an RA or a TA is an AA.
Graduate Research Assistantships
A research assistant (RA) conducts research that contributes directly to their graduate education. Supervision is by the professorial staff, and appropriate research projects foster originality, imagination, judgment, and patience—the traits of an independent scholar. Many times a research project to which the research assistant (RA) is assigned eventually leads to a dissertation or thesis topic. Although a research supervisor cannot guarantee that a particular project will be suitable dissertation or thesis material, the supervisor can offer a professional judgment as to whether the project is suitable, and they should offer this judgment to the RA as soon as possible. The final decision on the acceptability of a research topic for the dissertation or thesis rests with the student’s program of study (POS) committee. Because of the widely varying demands of research duties, and because most research projects become part of a student’s dissertation or thesis, it is nearly impossible to set a specific workweek. The official university guideline for time spent should be viewed as minimal for a research assistantship.
Graduate Teaching Assistantships
As the title implies, graduate teaching assistants (TAs) share the faculty’s responsibility for undergraduate teaching. TAs are not permitted to teach graduate-level courses. Responsibilities may include instruction, grading, course development, and proctoring exams. The TA’s teaching load will necessarily vary from program to program but should be consistent with the teaching load carried by faculty in the department. Since a teaching assistantship is an apprentice position in teaching, the TA should expect careful guidance from the department. This guidance may take the form of seminars, conferences, observations by experienced teachers, or other methods designed to develop teaching skills. The official university guideline for time spent should be viewed as maximal for a teaching assistantship.
Responsibilities may include instruction, grading, course development, and proctoring exams.
These university-wide services help to make the job of new TAs easier and more effective:
- Teaching and cross-cultural workshops are organized by the Graduate College, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate to provide general training for new TAs during the week before fall semester begins.
All international students who are nonnative English speakers and have teaching responsibilities are required to take the Oral English Certification Test (OECT) before they may be assigned duties. Students not reaching Level-1 (full certification) are required to take English 180, Communication Skills for International Teaching Assistants.
3.2.2 Diversity Funding
The Graduate College diversity funding initiatives encourage the recruitment, enrollment, retention, and graduation of students from underrepresented groups (African American, American Indian, Hispanic/Latinx, Alaska Native, and native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander). Current funding initiatives are the George A. Jackson Award and the Iowa State Ronald E. McNair Scholarship. Detailed information is available at https://www.grad-college.iastate.edu/documents/finance/Diversity%20Funding%20Initiatives.pdf.
3.2.3 Assistantship Policies and Procedures
Tenure of Appointment
Assistantship appointments are made fiscal year by fiscal year. Because of this, each appointment is made for one year or less. Appointments may be terminated for two reasons only: 1) for cause, or 2) loss of funding. Termination for cause is discussed in Chapter 9. The satisfactory completion of one appointment, plus satisfactory academic performance, will ordinarily make a student eligible for reappointment. However, departments have the discretion not to reappoint. Failure to reappoint is not termination and is not subject to formal appeal. Departments do have an obligation to provide reasonable notice if reappointment is not to be made. Also, programs may make commitments to support students for periods longer than one year. Such commitments are not formally treated as appointments. Students should obtain the terms of such commitments in writing. Assistantship support for more than seven or eight years is strongly discouraged, and departments may set limits on the number of years a student is eligible for assistantship support.
Letters of Intent
The department or other administrative unit offers graduate assistantships using the “Graduate Assistantship Letter of Intent” form, which contains a description of the position offered, stipend, and length of appointment.
Such matters as the specific nature of the graduate assistant’s responsibilities, requirements concerning office hours and staff meetings, particular conditions for re-appointment, benefits,and pertinent department requirements are established at the beginning of the appointment. All assistantship appointments are subject to the continuing availability of funds.
Conditions of Appointment
The university provides services and equipment essential to performance of an assistant’s duties, within the limitations established by departmental and university resources.
During an appointment period, the academic program or administrative department may evaluate the quality of the assistant’s performance in teaching, research, or administrative duties. The program should make evaluation of the graduate assistant an educational experience. Consequently, the graduate assistant’s evaluation is usually discussed with them; if the program does not initiate a discussion, the assistant may request one. A graduate assistant who feels unfairly evaluated has recourse through the procedures for grievances related to scholarly and professional competence. See also appointment termination procedures.
Iowa State University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, ethnicity, religion, national origin, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, sex, marital status, disability, or status as a U.S. veteran. Inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies may be directed to the Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity, Title IX /ADA Coordinator, and Affirmative Action Officer, 3350 Beardshear Hall, Ames, Iowa 50011, Tel. (515) 294-7612, email email@example.com. Additional information can be found on the Office of Equal Opportunity's website at: http://www.eoc.iastate.edu/.
If an assistant resigns their appointment, resulting in an appointment of less than 3 months during the fall or spring terms, eligibility for resident tuition, tuition award, and medical insurance will be effected. See Chapter 2 for more information.
The usual graduate assistantship is a 1/2-time appointment with a stipend sufficient to cover modest living expenses. The university establishes a minimum and maximum monthly stipend for 1/2-time teaching, research, and administrative assistantships. Stipends for other fractional appointments are scaled proportionally. The guidelines and procedures for setting stipends used by the graduate assistant’s department are filed in the department office, where they are available to a graduate assistant upon request.
U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are on graduate assistantships may also work on an hourly basis provided that the additional work is approved by the unit awarding the assistantship and that the hourly work is not related to the students' educational program. Total hours (assistantship and hourly work) cannot exceed 30 hours per week. Non-immigrant international students must abide by the terms of their visa status and immigration guidelines according to total hours worked. For visa questions, contact the International Students and Scholars Office, 515-294-1120, or their website at http://www.isso.iastate.edu/.
All hourly work for graduate students must be pre-approved by the Graduate College using the "Request to Hire a Graduate Student on an Hourly Basis" form.
Predoctoral Associate Positions
Predoctoral associates are appointed at least half-time to serve in a role that furthers their education.Their appointments are term appointments and must be renewed annually. The benefits and stipend scale associated with these appointments are the same as those of postdoctoral associates. A predoctoral associate must have completed oral and written preliminary examinations or possess a D.V.M. (or equivalent) or M.D. degree and must be registered for at least one graduate credit (minimum) each semester. The predoctoral scholar appointment time is counted towards the five-year maximum postdoctoral appointment. International students appointed to predoctoral associates must follow the immigration regulations concerning work.
For more detailed information on postdoctoral scholars at ISU, consult the Graduate College website.
Tax Liability for Graduate Assistantships
All assistantship monthly stipends are subject to income tax withholding. Contact the Payroll Office for more information on these withholdings.
3.2.4 Appointments Greater than Half-Time
Effective May 1, 2011, full-time summer appointments are no longer permitted.
Continuous graduate assistant (C-base) or a combination of graduate assistantship and hourly employment up to 3/4-time are permitted at any time for U.S. students and only during the summer term for persons on student and visitor visas. International students who are on curricula practical training (CPT) are allowed up to three-quarter time appointments during the academic year. Appointments are monitored by examination of academic records at the time the “Electronic Personnel Action” (EPA) form is received in the Graduate College. Approval for greater than 1/2-time will be contingent upon proof of reasonable progress in the student’s graduate program.
3.2.5 Benefits for Graduate Assistants
Benefits in addition to stipend support accrue to the graduate assistant during the appointment period. A full explanation of these benefits appears in the Policy Library; the following shortened description omits references to forms and approvals. Graduate Assistants are responsible for making sure they review and understand the benefit information.
Benefit information is also available from:
Student & Scholar Health Insurance Program
3810 Beardshear Hall
Health Insurance Plan
Graduate assistants with an appointment of one quarter time or more for at least 3 months of the fall or spring terms receive self only health insurance coverage as a benefit of employment for the term at no cost.
Dental Insurance Plan
Graduate assistants with an appointment of one quarter time or more for at least 3 months of the fall or spring term are eligible for the dental insurance plan which is partially subsidized by the university and the monthly premium will be deducted from the graduate assistant’s paycheck.
Graduate assistants may also enroll their lawful spouse or domestic partner, and unmarried dependent children under age 26. A portion of the monthly premium will be deducted from the graduate assistant’s paycheck when adding coverage for dependents.Dependents must be added within 30 days of your appointment date or with a qualifying event.
Note: Once you and your dependents are added to the plan, you will be required to remain on the plan until the end of the policy year or until your appointment ends.
For plan specifics, costs, open enrollment dates and benefits details for the health and dental insurance plans, please see the Human Resources Student & Scholar Insurance Program website at hrs.iastate.edu/sship.
Arrangement for a leave of absence is made between the graduate assistant and that assistant’s supervisor adhering to all grant and other funding source restrictions. When a graduate assistant needs to be absent either for personal reasons or illness, the supervisor should be understanding and accommodating to that need. At the same time, the graduate assistant should attempt to plan personal leave so that it does not interfere with or cause neglect of the duties associated with their appointment. Supervisors of graduate assistants are responsible for ensuring that their assistants do not exceed reasonable limits for leave.
When a conflict arises between the graduate assistant and that assistant’s supervisor regarding leave of absence use, either party may involve the appropriate Director of Graduate Education (DOGE). If the conflict is not resolved in a timely manner, any of the parties may involve the Dean of the Graduate College for a binding resolution. When resolving conflicts, the concerned party must present all evidence in writing (email is acceptable) and all parties involved must receive a copy. In order to accommodate schedules, allow a minimum of five business days for document review and resolution meeting to be scheduled between the two parties within two weeks. Resolutions achieved between the DOGE and parties need to be in writing (email is acceptable) and must be sent to all parties including the Dean of the Graduate College.
Benefits Available Through Worker’s Compensation
Any injury sustained by a graduate student while performing duties directly related to their Graduate Assistantship appointment should be reported immediately to University Human Resources by the supervisor, instructor, and/or department head using the “First Report of Injury” form.
Benefits available through the Iowa Workers’ Compensation system may or may not apply, depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding the injury. Injuries sustained in the pursuit of educational objectives typically are not considered work related and are not covered by the worker’s compensation system. University Human Resources can provide guidance on the claims process. ISU has a third party claims administrator, who determines compensability of claims and eligibility for benefits.
3.3 - Tuition Scholarship Awards
Academic colleges and units appointing graduate assistants administer funds that provide tuition scholarships for eligible graduate assistants. The various programs are described below.
3.3.1 Graduate Assistantship Tuition Scholarships
Graduate students appointed to a graduate assistantship appointment of 1/4-time or more for at least 3 months in fall and spring terms and for 4 weeks in summer term, are assessed tuition at the full-time resident (in-state) rate for the fall and spring term. Summer term tuition is assessed at resident (in-state) rate for the number of credits registered for. The graduate assistantship tuition scholarships are not paid directly to the student, but are applied to the student’s tuition bill. The scholarship awards are equal to:
- For a master’s student:
- 50% of full-time tuition per semester for each student on an assistantship appointment of 1/2-time or more or
- 25% of full-time tuition per semester for each student on an assistantship appointment of 1/4-time or more, but less than 1/2-time.
- For a Ph.D. (and terminal master’s program) student:
- 100% of full-time tuition per semester for each student on an assistantship appointment of 1/2-time or more or
- 50% of full-time tuition per semester for each student on an assistantship appointment of 1/4-time or more, but less than 1/2-time.
For fall and spring semesters, a student must be on appointment for at least three months to qualify for a tuition scholarship. For summer session, a student must be on appointment for at least four weeks during the term to qualify for a tuition scholarship. For all terms, appointments must have been processed by the Graduate College before the end of the first full month of classes (i.e., usually around the fifth week of the fall or spring semesters). Graduate tuition scholarships not used by the due date of the second fee payment installment will be forfeited. Students who will not be on appointment for the summer session may still be eligible for the resident (GA) tuition rate. This tuition rate is restricted to a summer session following a nine-month appointment. No action is required to receive the resident tuition rate in the summer for students who held assistantships the prior fall and spring terms.
3.3.2 Graduate College Tuition Support
Master's students approved for the George A. Jackson Award will receive 50% resident tuition, which together with the tuition scholarship, provides 100% tuition coverage for two years. Students must be appointed as half-time or three-fourth's-time graduate assistants to receive this award.
3.3.3 Combinations of Tuition Scholarship Awards
Some students may be eligible for more than one tuition scholarship. In no case will a student receive more than full tuition funding from all sources of tuition awards.
3.4 - Other Financial Support
3.4.1 External Funding Sources
If a graduate student is unable to obtain graduate assistantship support through a department, other possibilities might be explored. The student’s department chair may have knowledge of special fellowships available. Additionally, assistance in locating potential non-ISU funding maybe obtained from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development (2610 Beardshear Hall, 515-294-6344; website: http://www.vpresearch.iastate.edu).
3.4.2 Financial Aid and Work Programs
Information is available from the Office of Student Financial Aid (0210 Beardshear Hall, 515-294-2223, http://www.financialaid.iastate.edu/) about loan and work programs. Students applying for financial aid based on need should complete the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” (FAFSA) form, available from the Office of Student Financial Aid or online at https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa/.
Both on-and off-campus part-time jobs are posted on the office’s Web-based online job board at http://www.financialaid.iastate.edu/and on other job bulletin boards throughout the campus. Graduate students also may use the services of the Iowa Workforce Development Center at 122 Kellogg Avenue in Ames to locate employment (515-232-6572, https://www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov).
3.4.3 Non-Citizen Employment
Permission to seek work in the U.S. must be requested from the appropriate office by foreign nationals before beginning employment. More information about employment rules on and off campus as well as visa and other immigration issues for foreign nationals should be obtained from a staff member in the International Students and Scholars Office (3248 Memorial Union, 515-294-1120). A student may also check this office’s website at http://www.isso.iastate.edu for complete information on international student concerns.