Graduate Student Benefits

I. ECONOMIC BENEFITS

A. FINANCIAL SUPPORT

Penn State continually strives to develop and improve the opportunities and educational experiences for our graduate students. In order to foster the graduate student experience and allow students to pursue graduate education without having to worry about funding their education, we provide many students with funding packages in the form of assistantships that involve teaching, research, or in some cases, other activities that relate to their professional interests and career goals. Students with this funding are collectively referred to as Graduate Assistants (“GAs”).

For the 2016-2017 academic year, we provided our GAs with an average stipend of $20,837. The growth of Penn State and the success of our graduate students has enabled the University to increase the average annual stipend for assistantships for each of the last five years. GAs also receive tuition remission that covers the full cost of tuition for each semester in which the assistantship is awarded.

Graduate students who have held assistantships, fellowships or traineeships are also eligible for summer tuition assistance of up to 9 credits of required coursework during the subsequent summer (without needing to be on a summer appointment), at the prevailing applicable tuition rate depending upon their residency status and program. In 2016, the total graduate tuition benefit for 9 credits of coursework ranged from $7,598-$14,627.

The University is committed to providing competitive funding packages in the form of stipends and tuition remission. In addition to providing financial support, we believe that assistantships prepare our graduate students to become extraordinary teachers and researchers and help them achieve their professional goals.

B. HEALTH INSURANCE

The University provides subsidized health insurance for our GAs, full-time fellows, and trainees. The Penn State Student Health Insurance Plan (“SHIP”) provides robust coverage—including medical, dental, and vision—specifically tailored to meet our graduate students’ needs. The SHIP is considered a “Platinum” plan and has the highest actuarial value for a medical plan permitted under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

We work collaboratively with graduate student representatives from the Student Insurance Advisory Board and the Student Insurance Administrative Council in order to provide exceptional health insurance to our students. These efforts ensure that the medical needs of our graduate students, including international students, are being met.

The University proudly contributes 80% of the annual medical premium for GAs, fellows, and trainees, and 75-76% for dependent coverage. Additionally, we contribute 80% of the premium costs for individual and 70% for Family plans for dental and vision insurance for GAs (and typically fellows and trainees).

C. TOTAL VALUE OF 2016-2017 GA ECONOMIC BENEFITS

Individual
Coverage
Family
Coverage
Average Stipend for ½-time Assistantships  $20,837 $20,837
2016-17 Fall/Spring GA Tuition $17,000 $17,000
Summer 2016 UP Tuition3 & Fees
(9 credits)
$7,598-14,627 $7,598-$14,627
Total Medical Insurance Subsidy
(12 months of coverage)
 $2,637 $10,152
Total Dental & Vision Subsidy
(12 months of coverage)
$256 $620
Value of Total Support Package1,2  $48,328-$55,357 $56,207-$63,236

1 Graduate students on fall/spring assistantship appointments often receive some form of additional support in the summer, so that total annual support is often greater than reflected for the fall/spring assistantship.

2 Actual support value will vary with assistantship type, stipend amount, number of summer credits taken and residency status, and choice of SHIP, Dental and Vision coverage (e.g., Individual, Individual & Dependent, Family, etc.).

3 Students appointed to a fall/spring assistantship are eligible for up to 9 credits of Summer Tuition Assistance plus fees in the subsequent summer semester. Values in above table are based upon the available Summer 2016 Tuition rates, and will be updated in the future when Summer, 2017 rates become available.

D. STUDENT EXCEPTION TO FICA TAX FOR ASSISTANTSHIPS

Graduate students who hold assistantships are not required to pay Federal Insurance Contributions Act (“FICA”) taxes because the primary purpose of the teaching and research services performed is educational.  As a result, our graduate students do not have 7.65% of their stipend withheld to fund Social Security and Medicare.  In 2016, this amounted to an average of $1,594 in savings for GAs.

E. RECOGNIZING GRADUATE STUDENT EXCELLENCE

In addition to providing financial support in the form of stipends and tuition remission for GAs, the University is committed to recognizing the achievements of our graduate students through award programs, funding from our institutional resources, and gifts from donors.

We support excellence and acknowledge the significant contributions that our graduate students make to the University by teaching and research activities. A complete list of graduate student awards and eligibility criteria is available in the Student Recognition Awards informational website.

F. CONTINUATION OF STIPENDS WHEN FAMILY OR PERSONAL ISSUES ARISE

Consistent with our effort to support the educational needs of our graduate students, the University has established guidelines for the continuation of stipends when graduate student assistants may need to be absent from the University for personal or family reasons. Our goal is to reduce the stress that arises when extenuating circumstances warrant temporary absences. Below is an overview of Penn State’s policies for providing the continuation of student stipends and other benefits in three specific circumstances. More detailed information about the University’s guidelines for the continuation of graduate student stipends during an absence from the University is available on the Graduate School’s website.

  1. Short-Term Absences
    The University allows GAs to request short-term absences—typically less than one week in duration—for a variety of reasons.  These reasons include, but are not limited to, recovery from illness, to care for an immediate family member, and bereavement for the death of a loved one.
  2. Extended Leave
    To alleviate the stress of an extended absence, Penn State generally will maintain stipends and other benefits during an extended leave.
  3. Leave for a New Parent
    We understand that new parents will need help at such an important time for themselves, their children, and their families. Accordingly, we maintain the graduate student’s stipend and benefits during an absence of up to six weeks immediately following the birth or adoption of a child.

 

II. ACADEMIC AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

A. GRADUATE STUDENT ASSOCIATION & REPRESENTATION

We make a concerted effort to involve graduate students in shaping our academic departments by having their voices heard through student associations.  The Graduate and Professional Student Association (“GPSA”) is a representative body for graduate students, including GAs.  GPSA members elect graduate students to serve on various committees, boards, and student organizations to work with the University’s administration to ensure that GAs educational goals and personal needs are being met.

B. GRADUATE SCHOOL ALUMNI SOCIETY

Penn State, through the Graduate School Alumni Society (“GSAS”), strives to engage graduate students through programs and initiatives to enhance their academic experience.  These programs and initiatives include career planning and professional development workshops, networking receptions, and mentoring opportunities.  GSAS’s mission is to nurture relationships between alumni and current graduate students.  Through GSAS, we provide our graduate students with a multitude of opportunities to foster their educational experience and bring them closer to achieving their professional aspirations.

C. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES

Each fall, we invite our new students to a Graduate Student Orientation. The orientation is designed to welcome new students and acclimate them to Penn State by providing an overview of important information relevant to graduate students, including information relating to student life, the University’s technology systems, and financial support and health insurance coverage.

We also sponsor several professional development opportunities for graduate students each year that assist students academically and professionally. This includes grant writing and career exploration workshops. In addition, each spring, the Graduate School sponsors an annual Graduate Exhibition, which showcases and celebrates our graduate students’ research and scholarly accomplishments across all departments and disciplines.

To continue the success of both Penn State and our graduate students who seek careers in academia, the University offers graduate students a Graduate School Teaching Certificate. This professional development opportunity provides graduate students with invaluable experience to hone their teaching skills, while obtaining formal recognition of their commitment to college teaching.

The Graduate School supports the Graduate Writing Center (GWC), an important resource to aid in students’ academic and career development by providing free one-to-one peer consultations and interactive workshops for Penn State graduate students across all disciplines and all levels of writing ability, in order to improve their writing skills.

 

III. GRADUATE STUDENTS’ GRIEVANCES & OTHER CONCERNS

A. Grievance Procedure

Penn State makes it a priority to establish fair and effective policies to resolve graduate students’ grievances expeditiously.  When a problem arises between a graduate student and a faculty member or adviser, we encourage the parties to resolve the dispute within their department or program.

If that proves unsuccessful, graduate students may file a written grievance with the college administrator for graduate education within his or her department.  The college administrator will then meet with the graduate student and the involved faculty member to attempt to resolve the dispute.

After meeting with the college administrator, graduate students may file a second written grievance with the Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Affairs of the Graduate School if they still feel the problem remains unresolved.  The Assistant Dean will work with all parties involved to resolve the grievance and ensure that the student’s complaint is addressed with dignity, respect, and in a fair and equitable manner.

Penn State also has other relevant policies on its Graduate School website including Guiding Principles for Good Practice in Graduate Education and Grade Mediation and Adjudication and those in the University Policy Manual, especially RP02 (handling Inquiries/Investigations into Questions of Ethics in Research and Other Scholarly Activities) and IP02 (Co-author of Scholarly Reports, Papers, and Publications).  In addition, graduate students are assured the full protections of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on the sex or gender of employees and students. Behaviors including sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking, as well as retaliation for reporting any of these acts are not tolerated. The University is also committed to providing support to those who may have been impacted by incidents of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct and may provide various resources and support services to individuals who have experienced one of these incidents. We encourage students to come forward with any concerns they have.  In addition, the Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Affairs of the Graduate School  serves as an Ombudsperson to whom graduate students across the University can turn for assistance, short of a formal grievance.

B. Other Questions, Concern, and Issues That May Arise

We want all of our graduate students to feel at home at Penn State.  The Graduate School is dedicated to making sure that our students’ educational goals are being met.  For any questions, comments, or concerns, we encourage our graduate students to contact the Graduate School so that we can continue to find innovative ways to improve student life and cultivate intellectual growth.

 

IV. MISCELLANEOUS BENEFITS

All graduate students are eligible for various discounts, including a variety of national brands and businesses, cultural and athletic events, dining, use of recreational facilities and recreational classes, memberships in numerous extramural clubs, and many others. Further information on these benefits may be obtained from Penn State’s Discounts website.