Ph.D. fee hike infuriates students

We are doctoral candidates at GW and wish to express our concerns about the announced University changes to our registration fees during the Ph.D. dissertation stage.

Under the old policy of “continuous enrollment,” GW charged doctoral candidates $35 per semester to stay enrolled in the University after completing the required 72 course hours, but while still working on a dissertation.

Under the new policy of “continuous registration,” the University will require doctoral candidates to pay one credit hour, approximately $600, for each semester they remain enrolled after completing the required 72 hours, until the dissertation is finished.

In other words, doctoral candidates used to pay $35 per semester (after completing all course requirements) until their dissertations were finished. They now will have to pay more than $600 per semester.

We believe the move to add charges to doctoral candidates across all disciplines amounts to a University tax – after tuition has been fully paid – on a group of students who are trying to finish their degrees while struggling to live in one of the most expensive urban areas in the United States.

Our position is supported by GW doctoral candidates in human sciences, history, English, American studies, political science, psychology, public policy, physics and the biological sciences – all of whom oppose the University’s change of policy.

More than 100 students from these programs have signed a letter that will be submitted to the Student Association Sept. 1 and the Faculty Senate Sept. 11. Our position also is supported by faculty members in American studies, human sciences, English and history.

Our argument against the policy change is as follows:

First, while in some fields of study it is possible to complete all required course work, as well as a dissertation, in four years, that standard cannot be universally applied.

Certain disciplines, especially in the sciences and engineering, encourage doctoral candidates to do research from the outset of their graduate careers. The student needs a short period of time to complete his or her research and write a dissertation.

In other fields of study, especially in the humanities and social sciences, students will complete the course work of the doctoral degrees in three years or more. Only after that will they begin the process of selecting a dissertation topic, and researching and writing the dissertation.

This portrait of a doctoral career at GW matches the time to complete a degree required nationally in various areas of study. The National Research Council has determined that in history, for example, the average time to complete a degree is 8.8 years.

A student at GW who completes all course work in four years and then takes four more years to finish his or her dissertation, would face, at proposed rates, $6,000 in increased fees. This money would come after the completion of all 72 credit hours required for a degree, while candidates are in the process of finishing their dissertation.

Finally, we question the wisdom of levying this new charge on doctoral candidates as it will conflict with the University’s goal of achieving standing as a Research I institution – the highest ranking for an institution. Achievement of this status will require GW to grant a large number of Ph.Ds in a variety of disciplines.

The University’s elimination of continuous enrollment across all academic departments and programs adds to the financial burden on doctoral candidates, forcing some to leave their courses of study and thus, reducing the number of doctorates granted at GW. The additional charge is not consistent with the GW’s long-term goals.

-Richard Hancuff is a doctoral candidate in the English department, Sarandis Papadopoulos is a doctoral candidate in the history department and Rachel Riedner is a doctoral candidate in the program in human sciences.

info box:Ph.D. students at a glance:1,815 enrolled in Ph.D. programs.9 percent of the total GW enrollment. 150 Ph.Ds are awarded, on average, each year.Each credit hour costs $680 at GW.9,077 total credit hours earned by Ph.D. candidates in fall 1997.

Source: Office of Institutional Research

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