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Graduate Student Association is important for UT

By Joshua Waldman
On November 7, 2012

 

The Graduate Student Association is a young and predominate organization at The University of Toledo. Thanks to the leadership of past presidents, Michael Bechill and Thihal Ponnaiyan, GSA has seen tremendous growth over the last four years.

GSA prides its self on being an effective organization that facilitates the professional, academic and social development of graduate students at UT.

In 2009, when Ponnaiyan and Bechill took over GSA as president and vice president, respectively, only a small group of regular members consisting of primarily the officers were responsible for keeping the organization afloat.

Previous to their administration, the GSA struggled to convince graduate students of the added benefit of being a part of the organization due to a lack of program offerings and services and as a result failed to maintain support from the UT administration.

Due to the lack of perceived impact that the GSA had on UT graduate students, the organization’s budget fell from $18,859 in 2002 to $3,676 in 2011. The GSA budget was continually cut despite increased interest in graduate education nationwide.

The impact of graduate education on economic growth is becoming increasingly well known. Data published by the Bureau of Labor statistics suggest that by the year 2020, jobs requiring graduate degrees will increase by 2.5 million.

To no surprise, this statistic has resulted in a 45 percent increase in the rate of graduate program enrollment nationwide. Given the increased impact of graduate education on economic growth, it’s vital that universities begin facilitating the development of graduate education and the students therein.

One way a university can facilitate the development of their graduate student population is to have an effective organization targeted toward graduate students, such as GSA.

Leadership of GSA understands the role of an effective graduate student association on the development and future success of graduate students enrolled at UT. This is why they have implemented programs such as the Midwest Graduate Research Symposium and the Travel Reimbursement Program.

The MGRS is aimed at developing the presentation and speaking ability of graduate students as well as encouraging collaboration with other universities throughout the region and nation. It’s a multidisciplinary multi-university program open to all graduate students, and it’s been recognized for its impact on graduate education at the regional and national level.

This year, 62 universities have been invited to participate in the event. In addition to the MGRS, among other programs, the GSA facilitates development of graduate students by providing partial funding to support national and international travel to conferences, allowing UT graduate students the chance to present their research to a global audience.

This not only facilitates the development of the student, it also helps raise awareness of the UT brand. Raising brand awareness will play a pivotal role in allowing UT to continue establishing itself as a premiere institution.

Despite the obvious impacts of these programs on graduate education at UT and surrounding universities, the programs offered by GSA have struggled to meet the graduate student’s demands largely due to inadequate funding.

Not only was 2011’s budget inadequate to support the programs offered by GSA, it also was inadequate when compared to peer universities. For example, in 2011 Kent State University allocated $33.24 per student through its GSA. However, with a budget of $3,676 and a graduate student population of 4,776, UT only allocated 77 cents per graduate student through its GSA.

Armed with this data, along with data suggesting the large amount of revenue generated from graduate students based on variables such as state subsidy, among others, GSA leadership met with several UT administrators in order to propose an increase in the size of the GSA budget by $154,000, an amount that would allow UT to adequately support GSA’s programs and an amount that would allow UT to be comparable to that of its peer universities.

Given the benefits of increasing the financial support for the UT GSA, the Senior Administration decided to approve the request from the GSA leadership and increased the GSA budget by $154,000.

Upon receiving an additional $154,000 towards the organizational budget, GSA leadership tasked itself, among other things, with increasing the regional and national awareness of the graduate programs offered at UT. The decision by UT to increase the size of the GSA budget has already begun to benefit the university.

Recently, the GSA made great strides towards achieving their goal of showcasing UT graduate programs to a national audience. On Nov. 1, three members of the GSA leadership team traveled to Duke University to speak among other graduate student organization leaders from MIT, Cornell University, University of California Davis and the like at the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students’ 24th annual conference.

The NAPGS serves as the representative body for the more than 500,000 graduate and professional students enrolled in institutions through the U.S. In addition to being invited to speak of its programs at the national level, UT GSA was also chosen among dozens of the nation’s top universities to receive two national awards. 12

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