Jobs for graduate assistants rising despite cap

Although graduate assistants (GA) usually teach introductory-level and general education courses, the mandated cap on freshman enrollment has not negatively impacted the availability of jobs for graduate assistants.

The governing body of USF put a cap on freshman enrollment to cope with budget cuts. Although admission standards for freshmen did not change, USF had to freeze its enrollment growth for the next three years.

Graduate assistant jobs have increased since fall 2007, said Leellen Brigman, associate vice president of Enrollment Planning and Management. There are 81 more jobs for graduate assistants, from 304 in fall 2007 to 385 this semester.

Jason L. Simms, co-president of Graduate Assistants United (GAU), said he doesn’t think the budget cuts have seriously affected the availability of graduate assistant positions.

“I have not heard of significant cuts in positions,” Simms said.

The cap on freshman enrollment has no bearing on graduate assistantships because freshmen are not the majority of the undergraduates at USF, Brigman said.

“Most new students come in as transfers, not freshmen,” she said, adding that of the 13,481 undergraduates who started at USF last year, 66.5 percent were new transfer students.

As far as finding a link between graduate assistantships and freshman enrollment, Simms said it’s complicated.

It depends on the department, Simms said. Some departments offer many general education courses, which are mainly attended by freshmen students. These courses typically need GAs to teach them. Other departments offer fewer general courses, creating fewer job opportunities for GAs. Also, some GAs are teaching online classes with an enrollment of about 200 people, Simms said, as opposed to teaching a live class with a smaller enrollment.

“It’s not as simple as saying there are more students so we need more GAs to teach them,” he said.

Sarah McGhee, a graduate associate in the department of communications, said the opportunity is there in her department for anyone who wants it.

“They were able to offer everybody a point-five assistantship this semester,” she said. A point-five assistantship is the highest the University offers and allows graduate assistants to work 20 hours a week, have their tuitions waived and receive some health insurance.

Undergraduates entering USF’s Tampa campus have increased by 1.2 percent, according to the fall 2008 Drop Add Enrollment Profile.  In fact, all levels of students — from undergraduates to graduates going for their master’s and doctoral degrees — have seen a slight increase in enrollment.

USF raised admission standards for new transfers beginning this semester. USF no longer accepts transfer students with fewer than 36 hours of transfer credits and no new freshmen for the spring semester, Brigman said.

The idea is to increase the quality of transfer students “so that they will be more academically successful and graduate in a timely manner from USF,” she said.

Despite the increasing levels of teaching assistantships, the Graduate School has been working to actively maintain the number of graduate students and the quality of their educational experiences.

Graduate students are the talent of the next generation of faculty, said Karen Liller, interim dean of the Graduate School. “I will watch graduate enrollment and graduate assistantships very carefully and continue to come up with as many initiatives as possible.”

Simms said that despite budget cuts, the administration has worked closely with GAU to minimize the effects of those cuts on GAs. The GAU is the labor union certified as the exclusive bargaining agent for GAs at USF.

“While we would always like to see improvements in the conditions of our work at USF, we are hopeful that USF will continue to work with us to further our mutual goals of making the University a highly competitive institution, both within Florida and throughout the world,” he said.

According to the Graduate School Web site, all GAs at USF work under a contract negotiated by the GAU and the USF Board of Trustees.