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FAQ: 12-Month Funding Model for Rackham Ph.D. Students

Rackham Graduate School has announced a new funding model wherein all Rackham Ph.D. students on the Ann Arbor campus will receive 12 months of stipend support for the duration of their funding packages. Beginning in academic year (AY) 2023–24, all funding packages in Ph.D. admissions offers will provide a spring/summer stipend at a level equivalent to the stipend offered in fall or winter terms.


Why did Rackham move to a 12-month funding model for Rackham Ph.D. education?

Rackham has been working to increase the availability of spring/summer support for Ph.D. students for several years. Research has shown that financial support increases rates of degree completion in Ph.D. programs. Graduate programs offer guaranteed funding packages to their Ph.D. students because of the contributions to research, scholarship, and teaching that these students make. The university also seeks to recruit excellent cohorts into its Ph.D. programs and faces competition from peer institutions in doing so. This decision represents an additional investment by the university in the Ph.D. funding system and the excellence of its Ph.D. programs. The source of this new investment is the university’s general fund, as allocated by the provost for disbursal through Rackham’s block grant program. Accordingly, Rackham understands that proposed FY 2024 tuition and fee rate increases have been augmented to provide the additional resources necessary to offset the increased costs associated with the extension to 12-month funding packages for Ph.D. students. This funding is in addition to the Ph.D. funding support that faculty, departments, schools/colleges, and Rackham already provide to support Ph.D. education through fellowships, GSRA appointments, and GSI appointments.

More information on financial support available to Ph.D. students is available here: Funding for the Ph.D. Degree.

What steps were taken to solicit feedback from graduate programs and the broader U-M community prior to reaching this decision?

Prior to decision and implementation, a proposal was reviewed by the Rackham Executive Board. Feedback from chairs and directors of the more than 100 Rackham Ph.D. programs was sought. Areas for feedback included the academic rationale for the proposal, the degree of program support for it, and factors to keep in mind if the funding extension was implemented.

How was the timing of the proposal’s development, feedback period, and implementation determined?

On a high level, this change completes an arc that began in 2010 when the campus moved to full Ph.D. student funding in fall and winter terms, drawn from a mix of fellowship, GSRA, and GSI/GSSA resources. The university has sustained and increased that commitment over time, and now we can fully align our support with the needs of the Ph.D. degree, which include 12-month academic progress.

While increasing the level of spring/summer funding available to Ph.D. students has been a goal for many years, more recently—and especially in the last 18 months—the graduate school heard from faculty and directly from Rackham Student Government and in student town halls about the need for this funding to support year-round degree progress. These comments are supported by the Michigan Doctoral Experience Study. In response, Rackham began an assessment and coordinated with the Office of the Provost about the academic rationale and the source of funding.

Rackham pursued an investment in institutional research tools that allowed us to assess where the program-level distribution of need for spring/summer stipend was located. These tools were available by fall 2022 and were used to formulate the proposal, which was completed by early winter 2023. Once completed, we needed to receive feedback from our faculty governance and departmental leadership. Those meetings, which occur on a regular annual schedule, had long been scheduled for March 15 and March 20/21, respectively. The timing of the meetings ultimately set the decision date for the project. Due to the benefits of the project’s adoption, Rackham did not want to delay it for a year.

What was the rationale for keeping this decision separate from the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) collective bargaining agreement?

Ph.D. student funding commitments are separate from the collective bargaining agreement because they encompass a range of funding components, many of which do not relate to graduate student employment and are therefore not covered by the agreement.

The collective bargaining agreement with GEO covers only GSI/GSSA appointments, the components of funding that involve employment. Other aspects of Ph.D. funding commitments are not covered by the agreement and are not subject to collective bargaining. Some Ph.D. students with guaranteed funding never hold a GSI or GSSA appointment and are not covered by the collective bargaining agreement during any time in their program. Nor was the prior requirement of a minimum of eight-month funding part of the collective bargaining agreement; it was instead a commitment made by Rackham, the schools and colleges, and Ph.D. programs upon adoption of the Rackham continuous enrollment policy in 2010.

The university values the contributions of its graduate student employees and negotiates collective bargaining agreements that cover their wages and benefits and other terms of their employment. At the same time, the university believes strongly in the ability to promote academic degree progress without requiring the obligation of employment. It therefore additionally offers fellowships to graduate students through its schools and colleges, including Rackham. Rackham’s new spring/summer funding extension for Ph.D. students offers additional, flexible fellowship funding to fill in the gap between existing spring/summer stipend levels and the new full stipend commitment. Fellowships are separate from collective bargaining because they do not obligate employment, but rather promote academic progress. Programs will continue to determine how to allocate spring/summer stipends while drawing on a mix of sources—including GSRA, GSI/GSSA, and fellowship appointments—as they currently do in the fall and winter terms.

If the new funding is separate from the collective bargaining agreement, how can students be confident that it will remain available throughout their course of study?

When Ph.D. students are admitted to the university, their program guarantees them a funding package to support their progress towards the degree. Funding packages, which are predicated on the student being in good academic standing, include a combination of fellowships, GSRA appointments, GSI/GSSA appointments, and departmental funds. Current Ph.D. students in good academic standing will receive the new spring/summer support for the duration of the terms of their offer letters. Moving forward, offers of admission to Ann Arbor Ph.D. students will include provision for 12-month stipend support. 

It is important to remember that funding offered in admissions letters is guaranteed to the student as long as they remain in good academic standing. More information on financial support available to Ph.D. students is available here: Funding for the Ph.D. Degree.

How does this decision relate to Rackham’s strategic vision for graduate education?

Rackham’s strategic vision reimagines graduate education at U-M in a way that is student centered and faculty led, and that emphasizes a holistic view of graduate training. The extension to 12-month Ph.D. funding assists programs and their faculty by promoting program excellence, equity, and the ability of faculty to recruit new Ph.D. cohorts. We believe that moving to a 12-month funding model furthermore supports the academic progress and success of Ph.D. students as measured by completion rates and time to degree. In addition, we continue to hear from programs and faculty about their ongoing needs to sustain and advance the graduate research and scholarship that is at the core of Ph.D. training, and we appreciate that these needs and opportunities vary by discipline. We will continue to listen to the needs of faculty and programs, including their perspectives on costs.


Whose funding has been extended to include spring/summer stipend?

This funding change applies to Rackham Ph.D. students on the Ann Arbor campus who are in good academic standing and within the period that they were offered full funding as part of their offer letter of admission. Future offers of admission to Rackham Ph.D. students on the Ann Arbor campus will include provision for 12-month stipend support.

Spring/summer funding needs for Rackham Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) students and Ph.D. students on the Dearborn campus will be addressed separately by Rackham and their respective schools and colleges.

Which Rackham programs are affected by this move to 12-month funding of Ph.D. studies?

All Ph.D. programs on the Ann Arbor campus are included in this new model, and all should expect to receive supplemental block grant funding to address any gap between current available funding support and the new 12-month funding level.

Will the level of the spring/summer stipend be the same as the fall and winter stipend amounts in a given academic year?

Beginning in AY 2023–24, all funding packages in Ph.D. admissions offers will provide a spring/summer stipend at a level equivalent to the stipend offered in fall or winter terms.

Will students receiving external support (through fellowships, internships, or employment) receive additional spring/summer stipend under the 12-month funding model? 

Students are motivated to apply for external fellowships because they bring honor and recognition, allow the pursuit of novel research directions, and provide funding support. Examples of such external fellowships include the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships (FLAS), and disciplinary research grants that promote field work or archival visits. When students receive these external honors, they are currently included as part of the university’s commitment to provide full funding support to Ph.D. students, and that practice will also apply to spring/summer funding. That is, external fellowships amounts that meet or exceed the minimum stipend satisfy the expectation of 12-month funding. If a student exceeds the minimum stipend level through the external fellowships, no additional funding is required from the department. 

Additionally, Ph.D. internships are of growing importance to doctoral education as students seek, with the support of faculty and programs, to learn about how to apply their skills in research and scholarship in a variety of careers. Especially in engineering, many of these internships provide students with external support and are well incorporated into the curricular progress of Ph.D. students. Faculty/program practices for supporting Ph.D. students to pursue internships should therefore continue. 

Many Ph.D. programs already have policies and procedures in place governing supplemental employment during the fall and winter terms, especially when students hold fellowships. Programs should consider how to extend or adapt these policies and practices to the new 12-month funding model.

To the extent that students receive external funding (internships, employment, fellowships) equivalent or exceeding the established stipend, they should not receive additional funding through this new allocation. This approach is the same as how internship experiences are currently treated when pursued during the fall or winter terms; therefore, programs can simply extend those practices to the spring/summer term.

Will international students be eligible for spring/summer funding? How will this affect their visa status (or other immigration compliance)?

All Rackham Ph.D. students in good academic standing and within their funding packages are eligible for 12 months of funding, including international students. Visa status is tied to enrollment, which is not affected by this change in funding status. Programs are encouraged to be in touch with the International Center regarding further questions.

Will Ph.D. students who have exceeded the period of funding guaranteed by their offer of admission receive this extension of funding support?

Students who have exceeded the period of support described in their offer letter funding package will not be guaranteed to receive a spring/summer stipend via this funding change.

Will Ph.D. students defending during the grace period receive this extension of funding support?

Programs already have practices for the conclusion of funding upon degree completion. For example, many programs conclude their funding of Ph.D. students around the time of the Ph.D. defense and/or submission of corrections; such program practices can continue.


What general guidance does Rackham have for programs as they implement the extension to 12-month funding of Ph.D. students?

Many Ann Arbor Ph.D. programs already provided 12-month funding to Ph.D. students through fellowships and GSRA appointments available to them. The remainder of programs typically provided partial support during some spring/summer terms as part of the offer of admission. All programs have an expectation of year-round academic progress toward the Ph.D. degree, particularly for the research and scholarship that leads to the dissertation. Thus, the same expectations that govern academic progress in the fall and winter terms should continue in the spring/summer, but now under a system in which all students are receiving support from the mix of fellowship, GSRA, and GSI resources to which each program has access—consistent with how programs operate during the fall and winter terms. More specifically, programs tend to have year-by-year funding plans and processes that address how the source and sequence of funding will be equitably allocated to Ph.D. students. These plans and processes will be equally useful in allocating a uniform level of spring/summer support to Ph.D. students in each program.

In summer 2023, Rackham formed an advisory committee to receive graduate program input to further promote an equitable guidance and implementation of the 12-month funding model across the full range of Rackham Ph.D. programs. The full report of this advisory committee was made available to programs in November 2023. Rackham deans and staff are also facilitating discussion among colleagues and providing guidance around concerns and issues related to admissions/offer letters impacted by 12-month funding, as well as strategies for structuring expectations for spring/summer academic progress in the context of 12-month funding.

Who comprised Rackham’s 12-month funding advisory committee?

The advisory committee was made up of faculty and administrators, from Rackham and units across campus, with close connections to and expertise in graduate education at Michigan and the Ph.D. funding model.

How will Rackham determine the ongoing block grants amounts provided for spring/summer support?

Rackham will disburse this new funding to programs through its annual block grant program. The current block grant program gives programs flexible funding to support their Rackham graduate students. The block grant allocation for spring/summer support will be increased annually in conjunction with the normal annual Rackham block grant increase. Consistent with Rackham’s existing block grant program, base allocations for spring/summer support are not directly tied to individual student enrollment and will not fluctuate year to year. Rackham’s goal in working with programs to determine base allocations is to establish ongoing support that will sustain programs without the burden of a yearly allocation process.

Are faculty research grants and departmental discretionary funds going to be the future source of this additional funding for 12-month appointments?

All Ph.D. programs and their faculty already provide a significant amount of funding for spring/summer support of their Ph.D. students, primarily through GSRA or fellowship appointments, but also sometimes through GSI or GSSA appointments. That investment in Ph.D. students will need to continue and will not be replaced by the central funding made available through this decision. At the same time, the augmentation of the proposed FY 2024 tuition and fee rate increases will offset the increased costs of the extension of appointments for Ph.D. students in an ongoing way. We acknowledge that, even given increased tuition revenue, programs will need to attend to their future Ph.D. cohort sizes to accommodate the changes in cost and funding source that naturally occur; this is something that programs already managed under the previous 8-month funding system.

Will programs or Rackham process spring/summer support payments?

Programs will provide the extended support to their students using available fellowship, GSRA, and GSI sources, allocated by equitable methods that each program will decide based on the academic needs of the program and the availability of sources. This is the same method that programs already use to allocate support in the fall and winter terms. Programs will have the additional block grant funding from Rackham available to be sure that all Ph.D. students in good academic standing and within their offers of admission receive spring/summer stipend support. 

Do students need to be in residence in Ann Arbor to receive spring/summer funding?

Programs naturally have expectations about where and how Ph.D. students perform their research, scholarship, and other duties, and these expectations can be maintained. For example, a GSRA appointment in the spring/summer may require time in the lab, and a study in the field may require international travel. Ph.D. students should receive 12-month support for their research and degree progress wherever it is conducted, and as consistent with the program’s curricular expectations and the faculty’s mentorship.

Do faculty need to change their summer availability in response to this decision?

The availability of faculty during the summer varies widely across campus and need not change in response to this decision. Ph.D. students already have an expectation of year-round academic progress, and they benefit from the processes and practices that programs have created for planning and mentoring. These can continue, but now with students receiving 12-months of funding to support their academic progress.