Does a graduate assistantship pay for health insurance?

Date: February 2019


Dear Ask a Dean,

My ultimate goal is to be a professor one day and mentor graduate students of my own, and I was wondering if I could get some clarification on how various funding sources interact. My understanding is that graduate student assistantships pay for the student’s A: stipend and B: tuition fees. What I was wondering is, for students on the student health plan, does the same funding source pay for the health insurance as well? Does it vary depending what the funding source is (an internal TA vs. a federal grant vs. a fellowship)? Or does that money come from somewhere else?


A Quizzical Graduate Assistant


Dear “Quizzical Graduate Assistant,”

For some reason, when I talk about graduate funding models with my friends and family I usually notice eyes begin to glaze over, so I’m delighted to find a willing audience! Whether you are planning for a faculty career or just trying to be informed about your current financial support, I think it’s good to know how tuition, stipend, and the Student Health Plan (SHP) are budgeted and paid. The short answer to your question is that, in most cases, the same funding source pays for a student’s stipend, tuition, and SHP. But there are some differences between students who are supported on assistantships (TA/RA/GRA) and those on fellowship.

Most Cornell TA appointments are funded by the college or department that offers the course that is being taught. For example, if you were to serve as a TA for a 1000-level animal science course, the department of animal science would typically appoint you using funds budgeted by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Research assistantships (RA or GRA) are usually made with “sponsored funds,” meaning grants that have been received by faculty members. When writing their grant proposals, faculty include budget lines for stipend, SHP, and a portion of the tuition (usually 50 percent). Colleges provide the remaining portion of the tuition needed. 

While fellowship support works in much the same way, many fellowships are funded by university endowments or external funding agencies. If you receive a Cornell, Sage, PLSF, or Dean’s Excellence fellowship, the full amount of stipend, tuition, and SHP is paid by the Graduate School. If you are awarded a fellowship from a funding agency outside of Cornell it likely includes those same payments, or it may be a bit less generous but qualify for “top-off” by Cornell. In those cases, your SHP may be paid by the Graduate School if it is not included with the fellowship.

I hope this background is helpful!



Jason Kahabka
Associate Dean for Administration