Full-time Ph.D. and research master’s students may be awarded financial support in the form of an assistantship. These fall into four general categories: Teaching Assistant (TA), Research Assistant (RA), Graduate Assistant (GA), and Graduate Research Assistant (GRA). These awards are administered by fields and departments.
Graduate student assistantships (Policy 1.3) are an arrangement in which financial support is awarded to a graduate student who engages in teaching and/or research in furtherance of the university’s academic mission, as well as his or her graduate education. All assistantships include a tuition credit, a stipend at least at the university’s published minimum rate, and health insurance coverage.
Students may hold different assistantships during their time at Cornell, or may receive funding from a variety of other funding arrangements such as fellowships or external awards. Because assistantships include a service component the stipends are processed semi-monthly through Cornell’s payroll system with applicable tax withholdings.
Because students funded through assistantships are expected to make progress towards their research degrees, assistantship hours for TA, RA, and GA appointments are limited to 15 to 20 hours per week, averaging no more than 15 hours per week. Hourly limits for GRA appointments are not explicitly defined because they, by definition, are “An academic appointment focused on thesis or other degree-related research of a type that is required from all candidates for the degree. Because a student devotes considerable time to dissertation research, the time spent on research connected with the project is variable. GRAs are awarded full tuition credit and a stipend.”
Assistantship stipend increases are approved annually by the Board of Trustees which includes two voting student members, upon recommendation from the Provost and Graduate School based on input gathered annually from the General Committee of the Graduate School which includes two voting student members, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA), faculty Directors of Graduate Studies, and college deans.
Cornell assistantship minimum stipend rates have increased consistently over time, averaging a 2.5% annual increase for the past eight years. Most (95%) doctoral students also receive funded assistantship or fellowship stipends during the summer months.
For the first time in several decades, for the 2014-15 academic year a different stipend rate was approved for TA/GA compared to GRA/RA appointments in response to faculty concerns about financial pressures on research grants. However, the vast majority (nearly 90%) of campus units that year voluntarily increased GRA/RA stipends so that all assistantships would be paid at the same stipend rate. Responding both to a GPSA resolution on this topic and actual behavior of campus units, in 2015-2016 all assistantship stipends were equalized again at the same required 9-month minimum rate. Thus, all types of assistantships have experienced a 2.5% average annual increase over the past eight years, as below.