Correction Appended: An earlier version of this story inaccurately reported that the University’s continuous enrollment policy would implement a tuition freeze for Rackham students.
Members of the leading faculty governance body discussed the primary obstacles and possible solutions to the continuous enrollment issue for Ph.D. students Monday afternoon at the weekly SACUA meeting.
Continuous enrollment, a policy first proposed to SACUA by Rackham Dean Janet Weiss in February 2009, would require all graduate students to pay continuous, year-round tuition until they graduate. If any leave of absence is not included in the pre-defined reasons created by the school, students must seek specific approval of the Rackham School and the leave of absence must last no longer than one semester.
According to a Feb. 4, 2009, article in The Michigan Daily, Weiss said she believed the main purpose for continuous enrollment is to help students complete their graduate studies efficiently and begin their careers.
“Our real goal is to make it more likely that students will be able to complete their degrees and go on to successful careers beyond graduate school,” Weiss said at the time. “The money is really only the means to the end.”
The guidelines for continuous enrollment left many students and faculty concerned and confused about terms of the new policy, which is intended to take effect in the fall, pending approval of the new tuition rate by the University’s Board of Regents next month.
SACUA members discussed possible alternatives to lessen the severity of continuous enrollment at the meeting Monday afternoon, including a possible re-enrollment fee of around $100. According to SACUA member Rachel Goldman, engineering professor at the University, this small, reasonable fee would provide some sort of penalty to graduate students who disenroll for any period of time, but would not further hinder their studies.
According to SACUA Chair Ed Rothman, professor of statistics at the University, six members of the University Senate brought the desire for some kind of revision to continuous enrollment to his attention, though he said none of the six are willing to speak about the issue in front of the Senate Assembly.
According to the SACUA Vice-chair Gina Poe, assistant professor of anesthesiology and molecular and integrative physiology at the University, SACUA currently supports the Rackham Student Government’s work to voice complaints about continuous enrollment and clarify vague details of the policy.
Poe said it would be best to “give Rackham the teeth” to be able to work around issues that prevent students from being able to enroll continuously.
Rothman explained that there are three main faculty-caused factors that could cause a student to stop enrollment and continue at a later date: conflict with a faculty mentor and the need for time to pass before seeking a new mentor, the inability to work as a student due to a project’s grant money limitations, or the inability to work as a student because the professor’s work is technically for the government or another corporation.
Throughout Monday’s discussion, Rothman stressed the importance of ensuring students are able to work around such obstacles in a practical way for the benefit of the students, something the continuous enrollment policy currently lacks.
“I think we’re here to serve our students, and I think we all believe that,” Rothman said. “We have to be constructive in looking for an alternative.”
In her presentation to SACUA in February 2009, Weiss said the policy is revenue neutral, meaning the enrollment system would continue to generate the same amount of money with continuous enrollment, which currently stands at $26 million.
Engineering prof. Kim Kearfott, also a SACUA member, said that in many cases, faculty members want to hire students for their grant work, but are unable to because of financial restrictions.
Goldman added that many of the issues lie in the financial restriction of various colleges, making it difficult to find a blanket solution to the issue of continuous enrollment. Remaining revenue neutral would not necessarily solve the problem of money for research projects, etc.
“The costs (of research) are going up and we’re all trying to figure out ways to deal with it,” Goldman said.
Poe moved to have the subject of SACUA’s continuous enrollment resolution be discussed at the Senate Assembly meeting on May 17, which passed unanimously. All members agreed that a vote in Senate Assembly should not take place until September, when more Senate Assembly members will be present as well as to allow time for a committee to be formed in search of a constructive alternative, despite the fact that, if passed, continuous enrollment will already be in place at that point.
Because continuous enrollment is set to be decided upon by the University Board of Regents next month, the vote in September would work to find a constructive addition to the policy, to ease concern for graduate students faced with enrollment problems in the future.
Rothman agreed that a vote on the subject would, politically, be more beneficial in the fall, leaving time for a committee to be formed in search of a constructive alternative to those already proposed.