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The Graduate College Handbook

for students, faculty and staff – August 2019

A. Assistantship Policies

1. Application, Evaluation and Selection Process 5. Stipends
2. Eligibility Requirements 6. Employment Leaves
3. Enrollment Requirements 7. Teaching of Graduate Level Courses
4. Appointment Level 8. Renewal, Resignation, Graduation, and Termination of Appointments

The various departments of the University appoint students as teaching (TA), research (RA), pre-professional graduate (PGA) or graduate assistants (GA). Academic Human Resources has defined the duties associated with each type of assistantship. Graduate student assistantships and their accompanying tuition waivers provide graduate students with financial resources that help defray the expenses associated with completing their graduate degrees. Students who hold assistantships experience educational and professional benefits. They gain further instruction in techniques in their fields, hone their research skills, acquire pedagogical experience necessary for an academic career, develop professional skills, and may have collegial collaboration with advisers that result in presentations or publications.   

  1. Application, Evaluation and Selection Process: Academic departments and administrative units of the campus appoint graduate students as assistants. Therefore, applicants to the Graduate College request consideration for an assistantship by checking the appropriate box on the application form, and continuing students apply directly to the appropriate department according to its procedures.

    The evaluation and selection process for an assistantship appointment is conducted by the department. The documentation related to this process must be retained. See section 3.a. of the Tuition Waiver Policy for details. The primary considerations are the appropriateness of the student's abilities to the duties to be performed, together with the relevance of those duties to the student's own graduate education . Each unit that makes assistantship appointments is responsible for ensuring that the graduate students are qualified for the appointment received.

    Assistants whose academic progress and service record have been satisfactory may be eligible to have their appointments renewed, subject to the availability of funds and the need for services. Departments have differing policies on the length of time they will fund students with assistantships and waivers.
  2. Eligibility Requirements: To receive and hold an assistantship, a student must:
    • be admitted as a degree-seeking student in good standing (Chapter 3.B.3),
    • be admitted to a non-degree program under an Exchange agreement that includes an assistantship as part of the terms of the agreement.

    Students admitted on Limited Status or on Probation may not hold assistantships until they are in Good Standing. Students on Probation, admitted on Limited Status, or admitted as non-degree students must petition each term to request to hold an assistantship.
    Assistantships cannot be offered to students who have graduated unless the student successfully requested to change curriculum and will continue in another program.   

    Assistantships cannot be offered to individuals prior to the admission term. If a unit has an interest in providing a summer assistantship to a person admitted for fall, the unit must recode the application to indicate summer as the term of admission. 

    To be eligible for a Teaching Assistantship appointment individuals must be orally proficient in English. Illinois law requires that all instructors at the University of Illinois be orally proficient in English. Campus has established a minimum acceptable score for approved English proficiency exams that is required of all non-native speakers of English serving in instructional roles. There are no exceptions. This means that students applying for teaching assistantships in foreign language programs are not eligible to seek an exemption from the requirement for demonstrated English proficiency. Some campus units may require higher scores. In addition, campus policy requires those who pass the proficiency exam to attend the Graduate Academy for College Teaching and have their classroom teaching monitored closely by their departments during the semesters in which they teach. Additional information may be obtained from the Center for Teaching Excellence.

  3. Enrollment Requirements.
    1. Fall and Spring All Students. In the fall and spring terms, students receiving assistantships must be registered for the semesters of appointment.
    2. Summer New Students. Students admitted for summer term who receive assistantships must register for the summer term.
    3. Summer Current Students. If a student receives a summer assistantship (the period between May 16 and August 15), and the student was registered for the immediately preceding spring semester or has registered for the following fall semester, the campus policy does not require the student to register for the summer term. However, the student’s department may require the student to register in summer.
  4. Appointment Level:
    All assistantship appointments must be processed to reflect the actual percentage and length of time the employee works. The appointment level is based on the appointing unit’s determination of the amount of time it should normally take to perform the assigned duties over the full appointment period including orientation and training. Hours of work are separate and distinct from the time required for an assistant’s own academic course work.

    International students may receive a maximum of a 50% assistantship per government regulations, and should check with ISSS for additional rules
  5. Stipends:
    The University establishes a campus minimum stipend for assistants and the terms of the University Agreement with the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) (PDF) stipulates the minimum for represented assistants. Units may pay above the minimum, and stipend amounts vary from unit to unit. Assistantship stipends are taxable, and state and federal taxes are withheld from stipends. Assistants whose enrollment is deemed to be less than half time will also have Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax (i.e., the Social Security and Medicare deductions) withheld from their stipends. 

    In addition, the stipend of students holding Graduate Assistantships (GAs) or Pre-Professional Graduate Assistantships (PGAs) will be subject to withholding tax on the value of tuition and service fee waivers that exceed $5,250 per calendar year.  Each semester, GAs and PGAs whose tuition and fee waivers to date are valued at more than $5,250 will have withholding on the amount exceeding $5,250 applied to their stipend payments. See taxability of tuition waivers associated with assistantships and fellowships (chapter 7 section D.3.). 
  6. Employment Leaves:
    Assistants are eligible for holidays, sick leave, parental and bereavement leave. See graduate employee information regarding leaves posted on the AHR site for full information. Questions about leave policies should be directed to Illinois Human Resources.

  7. Teaching of Graduate Level Courses:
    Teaching assistants may not, either intentionally or by default, be given sole responsibility for instruction of courses or sections of courses at the 400- or 500- levels or for the assignment of final grades in such courses (except 400-level course sections in which enrollment is limited to undergraduates). Teaching assistants may only assist the responsible instructor in grading, laboratory supervision, and similar activities for courses at the 400- or 500-level. Infrequent lecturing is permissible. Departments requesting an exception must provide the dean of the Graduate College with a letter explaining the special circumstances that justify the exception, including the qualifications (expertise in subject, nearness of date on which the doctorate is expected, and so forth) of the student who is proposed as the teacher (see guidelines). Exceptions are rarely granted. A student is not allowed to enroll in a course in which he or she is a teaching assistant. 

  8. Renewal, Resignation, Graduation, and Termination of Appointments:
    Assistantships are ordinarily assigned on a semester-by-semester or academic year-by-year basis. An appointment remains in effect only if the student maintains good academic standing, makes satisfactory academic progress, and provides satisfactory service. Assistants are eligible for reappointment at the sole discretion of the unit based on past performance of the assistant, availability of funds and the determination of the need for services. Departments are encouraged to communicate with assistants concerning plans or prospects for new appointments. Departments have differing policies on the length of time students may hold assistantships and sometimes limit the total number of semesters an assistant may serve. Many departments require that teaching assistants obtain and maintain certain teaching standards in order for their assistantships to be renewed. It is essential for the student to be aware of the appointing unit's policy and to plan accordingly.

    A  student who resigns a waiver-generating assistantship appointment or whose appointment is canceled before service is rendered for at least three-fourths of the academic term (91 days during a spring or fall semester, 41 days in summer term, or 21 days in summer 1 term for TA appointments) loses the accompanying tuition and fee waiver. This means that the student would be required to pay the full amount of appropriate tuition and fees for that term. There are two exceptions detailed in Chapter 7.D.1.h.

    Students with assistantship appointments (RA, TA, GA, PPGA) are eligible to hold their assistantships through the end of the semester in which they deposit if the end date of the appointment, when offered and accepted, was the same or later than the deposit date. For example, a student with a spring appointment processed to end May 15 may hold the assistantship through May 15, even if the student deposited the thesis anytime between January 1 and May 15.  This does not obligate the student to continue the assistantship, and the campus policy permits students to resign their assistantships and retain their waivers, if they complete all degree requirements for graduation within seven calendar days of the resignation, as detailed in Chapter 7.D.1.h.  For students with academic year assistantship appointments, their assistantship would end at the end of the semester in which they deposit and may not continue into the next semester.

    An assistantship appointment may be terminated during the term of the appointment. The assistant must be provided with written notice and an opportunity to respond to the department head prior to termination.  For more information about procedures for terminating an assistantship appointment, see the Illinois Human Resources. Assistants with questions about their appointments and benefits may also contact the Illinois Human Resources. Teaching assistants and graduate assistants may also consult the GEO Agreement with the University of Illinois (PDF).