A continuous enrollment proposal for Ph.D. candidates has come under fire recently by the Continuous Enrollment Work Group, an organization of University of Michigan graduate students who say the proposal is not being accurately portrayed to the community.

The proposal, which was pitched to the University’s top faculty body last week, would require all Ph.D. candidates to register pay tuition each semester, something not currently required. It would also lower the average tuition rate for candidates and provide them with uninterrupted access to University resources.

Formally approved by the Rackham Executive Board in December, the proposal has been under development for more than a year. Last week’s presentation by Rackham Graduate School Dean Janet Weiss to the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and subsequent coverage of the proposal prompted multiple letters from CEWG members to respond to Weiss’s claims.

In a letter to the editor published in The Michigan Daily earlier this week, Shaun McGirr, chair of the CEWG, said Weiss may not be accurately portraying the consequences of a continuous enrollment proposal.

“A working group of concerned graduate students has been considering the further implications that Rackham may have brushed over in its publicity materials,” he wrote.

McGirr said CEWG has found several potential problems with the proposal. He said the proposal would decrease a student’s flexibility as he or she proceeds through their program and has the potential to force students to pay tuition fees if departments can’t or won’t fund them. McGirr said the proposal would also complicate the ability to perform cutting-edge external research, decrease demographic diversity by pressuring departments to admit students who can quickly finish a program and deter the best students from the University to schools with less restrictive policies.

Rackham student Kiara Vigil, president of the Graduate Employees’ Organization, said in an e-mail statement that concerns about the policy aren’t limited to graduate students.

“I have also communicated with concerned faculty members from departments across the University, and they too have expressed concerns regarding the lack of specific processes related to the implementation of this policy,” she wrote.

In the e-mail, Vigil outlined three main concerns GEO has with the continuous enrollment proposal.

Vigil said the GEO Stewards Council — the executive governing body of the union — would like to see plans in place for how schools will cope with any potential financial losses.

In an interview yesterday, Weiss said schools would be required to formulate plans in order for the continuous enrollment requirement to be put in place.

“The graduate school is planning to contribute money to make sure that all schools will be able to cover their obligations, and in other cases schools are using gift monies or other funds to help cover the difference between what they will be expected to pay after the policy is implemented and what they’re paying now,” she said.

Among the three outlined concerns, Vigil said other factors affecting degree completion, which Weiss has said will increase because of continuous enrollment, need to be considered in tandem with this proposal. Increasing financial aid, decreasing cohort size and improving faculty mentoring, along with other measures, should be implemented alongside the continuous enrollment proposal, Vigil said.

Weiss said efforts are underway to address several of these concerns, including a mentoring initiative and a dissertation-writing institute.

“We agree that there are many other factors that can help to promote completion, and we are working on many of them,” Weiss said.

Vigil said financial considerations for students should to be taken into consideration in the proposal as well, because the policy could result in students paying more for their education through tuition and fees.

Weiss admitted that a student might end up paying more, but said this would only affect a very small number of students.

“For most people, we do not anticipate that it will result in a total increase in cost across their graduate career,” she said.

Weiss said only students who bear the entire burden of paying for their educations might end up paying more.

“This only applies to those students who are paying every nickel themselves, from start to finish, and there are almost none of those people,” she said. “Maybe one person or two people who would fall into this category (each year).”

The proposal is scheduled to be fully implemented in fall 2010. When it’s implemented, all Ph.D. candidates — not just new candidates — will be required to comply with the policy.

Think Rackham should pass a policy requiring Ph.D. students to be continuously enrolled? Weigh in on the Daily’s online poll.

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