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Funding for the Ph.D. Degree


0120 Rackham Building
915 East Washington Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1070
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Phone: 734.764.8119
Fax: 734.615.7535

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The University of Michigan provides many sources of financial assistance to help students pursue their degrees. Although the nature of funding varies widely, Ph.D. student funding has features common to all Ph.D. degree programs.

To recruit Ph.D. students and to support them in their academic progress and studies, the University of Michigan offers generous financial aid packages that provide funding through fellowship payments and employment opportunities. These resources support broad access to the benefits of Ph.D. education and the career outcomes associated with receiving the Ph.D. degree. Ph.D. education includes mentorship in research and scholarship, graduate coursework, training in authorship and pedagogy, and support in preparing for examinations such as the dissertation defense.

The financial aid packages received by Ph.D. students are described in their offer of admission. On the Ann Arbor campus, these include fully paid tuition, fringe benefits, and 12 months of stipend for a specified period, provided that the student maintains good academic standing. The duration of this funding package—typically between four to six years—is specified in the offer of admission and varies by Ph.D. program as per expected time to degree and the funding available to the program to support Ph.D. students.

The sources of funding in a student’s financial aid package are determined by the Ph.D. program and can include fellowship funding and/or appointment as a graduate research assistant (GSRA), graduate student instructor (GSI), or graduate student staff assistant (GSSA). Many programs have year-by-year funding plans in which student support switches among fellowship, GSI/GSSA, and GSRA sources, as part of degree progression. For example, in some programs, Ph.D. students begin their studies appointed as a GSI, and later transition to GSRA funding. In other programs, students begin their studies on fellowship appointments, and then transition to GSI appointments. When students accept an offer of admission from a Ph.D. program, they do so with awareness of the financial aid package offered to them, and that it may come with the obligation of part-time employment.

Fellowship appointments are provided to Ph.D. students from department, school/college, Rackham, and external funders such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) or the Department of Education Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Program. Fellowships, including internship fellowships, are provided to Ph.D. students to promote their academic work, learning, and progress. These appointments are not employment. The requirements of fellowships are academic work and progress—including in research and scholarship. They are paid to the student’s financial aid account rather than through the payroll system.

GSRA appointments are part-time employment for research, subject to university policies. They are often associated with external grants provided by the federal government. In some fields, the work of GSRA employment is indistinguishable from the academic activities of Ph.D. education. In that case, the Ph.D. student can make academic progress toward the degree and dissertation through part-time employment. In other fields, the work of GSRA employment is distinct from progress on the dissertation research needed to complete the Ph.D. Regardless, as part of this employment, graduate students receive valuable training that develops their skills in research. These appointments are paid through the payroll system.

GSI and GSSA appointments are part-time employment for instruction and administrative, counseling, or educational duties, respectively, subject to the collective bargaining agreement of the university with the Graduate Employees’ Organization. The work of GSI and GSSA employment is distinct from academic and dissertation progress; however, as part of this employment graduate students receive valuable training that develops their skills in instruction or administration. These appointments are paid through the payroll system.

The obligations of GSRA, GSI, and GSSA employment provided through the offer of admission are configured to be part-time so that Ph.D. students may always devote their primary effort to the academic work and studies that are central to their development as scholars. By academic work we mean activities that students undertake to progress toward the degree; academic work is neither employment nor work for hire. From the point of view of Ph.D. education, GSRA, GSI, and GSSA appointments are part of the financial aid package provided to students as per their offer of admission. These appointments make it possible for students to access the benefits of Ph.D. education, complete the Ph.D., and realize the career outcomes associated with earning the degree.

The stipend levels for GSRA appointments and Rackham fellowships are adjusted annually by the university and the graduate school, respectively. They are announced prior to the start of the academic year. The stipend levels for GSI/GSSA appointments are governed by the collective bargaining agreement between the Graduate Employees’ Organization and the university.

Ph.D. students are assessed tuition at the University of Michigan because the cost of their education includes faculty effort to mentor them in their research and scholarship, to teach them in classes, to train them in authorship and pedagogy, to serve on dissertation committees, and to otherwise create the departmental environment that supports doctoral scholarship. When Ph.D. students engage in these activities with faculty, they are performing academic work as students. Ph.D. students also have year-round access to university resources (for example: libraries, student services, recreation services, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), University Health Service (UHS), et cetera) through their tuition payment and are supported by staff in the schools and colleges. Ph.D. students are required to be continuously enrolled until degree completion, and tuition thereby assessed must be paid. The university pays tuition on behalf of Ph.D. students according to the terms of the student’s offer of admission.

The Ph.D. program, with the support of the school/college and Rackham, is responsible for fulfilling the funding commitment of the admission offer; the Ph.D. program also determines the student’s source of funding in any given term. Students who turn down or otherwise do not fulfill the obligations of a funding source assigned as part of their offer of admission do not have a claim to an alternate university funding source in that period.

Ultimately, the graduate faculty of the Ph.D. program create the financial resources for Ph.D. student funding by means of the external grants that they earn and the curricula that they design. The investment of Rackham graduate faculty and the university in the financial packages to support Ph.D. education is significant. Each year, approximately 1,000 Ph.D. students matriculate at the University of Michigan. In fiscal year 2022, doctoral programs, schools and colleges, and Rackham devoted more than $335,000,000 to Ph.D. student support payments that included stipend, benefits, and tuition.