This story was original published on UGA Today on March 22, 2021.
University of Georgia President Jere W. Morehead has launched a new fund to help graduate students overcome financial challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and complete their degrees.
The new $250,000 Graduate Student Degree Accelerator Fund will award up to $5,000 to eligible master’s and doctoral degree students to defray expenses associated with their graduate education.
“Graduate education is a vital part of any top-tier research university,” said President Morehead. “The expanding investments we are making in graduate education, exemplified by the creation of this most recent fund, demonstrate our appreciation of the important contributions of our graduate students and our commitment to their success.”
UGA has increased graduate stipends by an average of 2-5% per year in six of the past seven years—no increase was possible in FY21, due to the financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since academic year 2013-14, the fiscal year doctoral and master’s base assistantship rates have both increased, with the doctoral rate increasing by nearly 23%, from $46,062 to $56,613. These past increases have totaled nearly $6 million in additional funding provided directly for the benefit of graduate students.
In addition, President Morehead said he is exploring several options to increase the base assistantship rate for FY22 and is committed to doing so.
Awards from the Graduate Student Degree Accelerator Fund will be based on evidence that the use of these funds will advance each applicant toward the completion of his or her degree.
“The extraordinary challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic have interrupted the research and scholarly activities of graduate students who were on the verge of completing their degrees,” said S. Jack Hu, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “These funds will help them get back on track.”
Ron Walcott, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the graduate school, said he expects the fund to assist approximately 50 to 100 graduate students, based on their expenses.
“Master’s and doctoral degree students face a wide range of financial challenges, including employment requirements and expenses outside the university that have impeded their academic progress,” Walcott said. “We look forward to helping these students cross the academic finish line and continue their careers.”
While details are still being determined, Walcott said, full-time graduate students in good academic standing will be able to apply for assistance. Students also will need written support from their academic programs to confirm they have a plan to complete their graduate degrees.
Overall, more than 60% of the Graduate School’s budget goes directly to supporting graduate students through assistantships, fellowships, travel awards, competitive research grants and professional development opportunities.
This new fund is the latest in a series of privately funded initiatives launched by President Morehead to provide further assistance to graduate students with urgent financial needs.
In 2018, he created the Graduate Student Emergency Fund to provide limited assistance of up to $2,000 to enrolled graduate students facing unexpected financial hardships. That fund has been augmented with more than $350,000 in support from the President’s Venture Fund and UGA Foundation over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, more than $423,000 has been disbursed to address the unanticipated financial needs of 335 graduate students.