On April 2, 2020, Provost Patrick Maggitti formed a University-wide committee to explore graduate student needs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal was to better understand the myriad challenges— programmatic, scholarly, financial and other—our graduate students might be facing and to subsequently make recommendations about how Villanova might be able to alter, adapt, or increase the support provided to our diverse graduate student population, particularly in the short-term, as we respond as an institution to this global crisis.
Like all universities and colleges around the world, this pandemic has resulted in serious financial implications for Villanova. The University is committed to making crucial decisions in a thoughtful and equitable way as this crisis impacts each and every one of Villanova’s more than 13,000 students, faculty and staff. With an understanding of these broader issues, the committee approached its work with an ethos of flexibility and creativity.
The committee’s work was guided by a recognition that the academic progress of many students is impacted. Policy-based adjustments were proposed, considering how we can be flexible while not sacrificing the quality of students’ academic endeavors. Additionally, some students will face significant financial hardship and any additional support provided must be done in a fair and equitable manner across our diverse graduate student populations.
For context, over the 2019-2020 academic year, nearly 400 graduate students (>110 doctoral and >270 masters) were supported financially by Villanova through various assistantships. Some of these were expected to continue into Summer 2020, while others were 9-month positions. Tuition remission is also associated with most paid graduate assistantships, in addition to numerous tuition scholars’ positions across the University. Villanova also subsidizes doctoral student healthcare costs for all students—whether on assistantship or not—at an institutional cost of $250,000 annually.
The committee considered how Villanova can continue to provide existing resources with as much continuity as possible, while looking for ways to find additional support for students given current campus access restrictions and wider University financial implications. Unfortunately, our endowment cannot serve as a simple fix to fill the gaps—as financial markets decline so does the value of our endowment and our ability to draw from available, unrestricted funds.
Uncertainty about the immediate future is causing significant stress for our graduate students, as well as for the entire University community. A number of students have reached out to express their concerns and provide ideas, which we very much appreciate. Our goal is to operate within this crisis with the greatest of flexibility, creativity, empathy and equity.
The committee consisted of Amanda Grannas as Chair (Associate Vice Provost for Research), Emory Woodard (Dean, CLAS Graduate Studies), Gerard Jones (Sr. Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research, Engineering), Marguerite Schlag (Assistant Dean and Director, Graduate Nursing Program), Manuel Nunez (Associate Dean, Graduate Programs, VSB), Michael Risch (Vice Dean, Law), Ray Duffy (Associate Vice President of Human Resources), Neil Horgan (Vice President, Financial Affairs), Leon Washington (Dean of Enrollment Management), Mary McGonigle (Director, Villanova University Health Center), and Tim Hoffman (Associate Vice Provost, Finance and Administration). The plan was also reviewed by graduate student representatives from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering, the Villanova School of Business, the Charles Widger School of Law, and the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing.
To support the academic progress of Villanova graduate students to the greatest degree possible, while adhering to any federal, state, local or institutional restrictions in place. Additionally, this plan aims to respond to additional financial pressures experienced by graduate students as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The University has worked diligently since mid-March to address the needs of our graduate students, providing additional support though Villanova is currently facing many financial pressures (as outlined in the May 7 message from University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA). Key support of the University’s graduate student community includes:
- Continuing to pay tuition for all graduate students who receive it as part of their compensation.
- Continuing to pay all its graduate assistants through May 31, whether or not they could work remotely.
- Continuing to pay stipends for all graduate assistants who could continue their scheduled Summer 2020 graduate assistantships or hourly work assignments remotely.
- Established and announced the below Graduate Student Hardship Fund for those facing significant financial hardship due to the disruption of campus operations caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
- Providing numerous affordable physical and mental healthcare options for in-person or telemedicine visits, regardless of insurance status.
- Continuing one-on-one consultations with the Career Center and the Center for Research and Fellowships to help identify career prospects, fellowships, research experiences and external grant funding opportunities.