Why are there differences in funding?

Date: October 2016


Dear Deans,

Why do doctoral fields differ in the years of funding offered to students at the time of admission?


Just curious


Dear Just Curious,

Thanks for the question! Across graduate fields, doctoral funding commitments offered at the time of admission vary based on the expected length of the program, opportunities for external fellowships, and the resources available to the field. Commitments are made at the time of admission so that applicants can compare Cornell’s funding package with offers from other schools and decide which school (and offer) best fits their needs. 

Some fields, including yours, are generally conservative in their initial offers, limiting the years of funding committed in the admission letter, but actually do, in practice, often offer students additional years of support when resources are available, such as fifth year funding, or often students are able to enhance their original funding commitment from the graduate field by securing funding from external awards. For all humanities, arts, and humanistic social sciences graduate fields, the Graduate School consistently provides two academic years of Sage Fellowships and four summers of fellowship funds (assuming satisfactory academic progress and completion of other academic requirements for the fellowships) for every admitted student. The other years of funding to meet the typical four or five year funding commitments are generally provided by the college/department through teaching assistantships or other awards.

In the 2015-16 academic year 90% of registered Ph.D. students in your field who were in their fifth or sixth years were either funded on a TA appointment, supported on a fellowship, or in absentia conducting field research. Students are encouraged to seek and secure external funding awards for their field research, and often are able to secure other types of university-based funding such as FLAS awards or FWS TAships.

During the past 10 years, Cornell dramatically increased support for doctoral education by expanding the number of Cornell (one year) and Sage (multi-year) fellowships, and the General Committee of the Graduate School instituted a requirement that all graduate fields must offer funding to doctoral students at time of admission for a significant portion of their expected Ph.D. program. Cornell also instituted a program of providing generous top-offs to external awards that may not provide the full equivalent of stipend, health insurance, and tuition. Now, only 4% of Cornell Ph.D. graduates in 2016 had incurred educational debt during their doctoral program. That translates to 21 out of the 492 Ph.D. students who graduated this year, and their median educational loan debt at graduation was $15,612.

Finally, I’m delighted to tell you that the Graduate School and your graduate field are actively exploring ways that may make it possible to lengthen the funding commitment at time of admission to five years, with consideration for including currently enrolled students in this possible new funding arrangement.

Warm regards,


Barbara A. Knuth
Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School