GUIDELINE FOR THE EMPLOYMENT OF GRADUATE STUDENTS
Revised February 1, 2017
The purpose of this guideline is to clarify federal regulations, state law, and university policy pertinent to the employment of graduate students at the University of Connecticut. Units that seek to employ graduate students should be careful to use the appropriate employment mechanism considering the nature of the work and the tax implications for the student.
Existing Law and Policy
The University defines graduate assistants as graduate students “who provide teaching or research support to the University that is a part of his/her academic program,” and requires that all assistantships be administered through an academic department. (See https://grad.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/2114/2016/05/Definitions-GA.pdf.)
This definition is intended to align with the federal Tax Code Section 117(c), which provides that scholarships and tuition reductions are taxable income to the student (and thus potentially subject to withholding like wages) when they represent “payment for teaching, research or other services by the student required as a condition for receiving” the scholarship or tuition reduction.
That statute also, however, provides a narrow and specific exception for a graduate student at a college or university “who is engaged in teaching or research activities for such organization” (§ 117(d)(5)). This provision allows the University to provide Research Assistants and Teaching Assistants their tuition waivers tax-free. In cases where Graduate Assistants are not engaged in teaching or research activities for the University, IRS guidance requires the University to withhold extra taxes from these Graduate Assistants’ paychecks as though they were paid the waiver in cash, less an allowable exclusion of $5,250 per calendar year.
In addition, state law requires the University to waive tuition for Graduate Assistants (Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 10a-105).
Employment of graduate students
There are several mechanisms by which units can employ graduate students at the University of Connecticut. The following chart illustrates the appropriate mechanism for hiring a graduate student, as described in more depth below, along with guidance about when each is appropriate.
|Graduate Assistant (GEU-UAW)||Graduate students who provide teaching or research support to the University as part of his/her academic program||Academic Year||Graduate Payroll|
|Graduate Special Payroll Lecturer (GEU-UAW)||Graduate students who are serving as the instructor of record.||Summer and Winter Intersession||Special Payroll|
|Graduate Instructional Specialists (GEU-UAW)||Graduate students who are appointed to work in an instructional support capacity||Summer and Winter Intersession||Special Payroll|
|Graduate Student Technician (GEU-UAW)||Graduate students who are performing research activities for the University||Summer and Winter Intersession||Special Payroll|
|Student Labor||Graduate students who are performing a wide-range of functions (administrative, social services, library, maintenance, etc)||At any point||Student Payroll|
|Work Study||Graduate students who are participating in the federal need-based financial aid work program.||At any point||Student Payroll|
|Interns and Fellows||Graduate students who perform work as part of their academic programs typically outside the University and typically for course credit in their program of study||Academic Year||Graduate Payroll|
Graduate assistantships – Academic Year
During the academic year, Graduate Assistants receive a tuition waiver, a stipend, and health insurance in exchange for performing teaching, research, or other duties for the university. Graduate Assistants are members of the GEU-UAW bargaining unit and their employment is governed by the collective bargaining agreement effective July 1, 2015.
Graduate Assistants are expected to work an average of twenty hours per week (considered a “full GA,” or a 100% appointment). Occasionally, units may appoint a Graduate Assistant for less than twenty hours per week, typically fifteen hours (a 75% appointment) or ten hours (a 50% appointment). Under state law, these Graduate Assistants receive a full waiver of their tuition despite their reduced work hours, and thus the University expects units to use these partial appointments very judiciously only to meet special needs, such as to align with the timeline of a research grant or to cover an unexpected teaching need.
As a consequence of the University’s definition of a Graduate Assistant, it is the University’s expectation that all Graduate Assistants will have assignments that substantially involve work that supports the teaching or research missions of the University, or both. Thus, Graduate Assistants are usually assigned as Teaching Assistants or Research Assistants or a combination of the two. Since the University’s teaching mission involves a large array of activities beyond traditional classroom instruction, Graduate Assistants may also be assigned to support implementation of instructional technologies, advising programs, cultural programs, learning communities, and other co-curricular activities.
Graduate assistantships – Summer and Winter Intersession
Graduate students who perform teaching or research activities for the University as part of an academic program during the summer months or the winter intersession are also governed by the GEU-UAW collective bargaining agreement and are hired through special payroll. Graduate Assistants in the summer or intersession who serve as the instructor of record should be hired as Graduate Special Payroll Lecturers. Graduate Assistants who are providing various levels of instructional support should be hired as Graduate Instructional Specialists. Graduate Assistants who are providing research functions should be hired as Graduate Student Technicians. Detailed information about summer graduate student titles is available at: http://hr.uconn.edu/special-payroll-manual-offer-letters-forms.
Graduate assistantships – Not Substantially Related to Meeting Teaching and Research Missions
When a unit seeks to offer work to a graduate student that is not substantially related to meeting teaching or research needs, the University expects units to use one of the mechanisms described below (student labor, or work study,) to employ that student. In particular, work that is predominantly administrative in nature should be accomplished through these means.
There may be exceptional cases when a unit determines that a graduate assistantship is the best means to appoint a student even though the student’s work will not substantially involve teaching or research. While inconsistent with University definitions and expectations, Federal regulations do not prohibit Graduate Assistants from performing duties other than as Teaching Assistants or Research Assistants. If a unit seeks to employ a Graduate Assistant for work other than teaching or research, the unit must obtain permission to do so from the Dean of the Graduate School. Further, the unit must inform the student in the appointment offer letter that the tuition waiver they will receive is likely to be taxable, and thus their stipend will be subject to withholding. Units should also be aware that these Graduate Assistants will be members of the GEU-UAW bargaining unit and thus covered by the collective bargaining agreement.
According to the University’s policies and procedures related to student employment, graduate students may be employed as temporary, non-exempt hourly workers. These graduate students are not considered Graduate Assistants, and should not be coded or compensated as GAs, RAS, or TAs, and are not covered by the collective bargaining agreement. They may fulfill positions requiring various levels of skill and experience, from trainee-level jobs to supervisory and highly technical jobs. These jobs may support a wide range of University functions, including research, administration, information technology, fiscal management, library, maintenance, recreation/athletics, social services, academic services, public services, and the arts. The job duties, work hours, and schedules of graduate students employed on the student labor payroll are set by the hiring department. Levels of pay follow a set schedule depending on job requirements. Students on student labor receive bi-weekly paychecks for hours worked. Generally, it is expected that full-time students work no more than twenty hours per week, except during breaks when it is expected they will work no more than forty hours per week. Detailed information about student employment is available at http://studentjobs.uconn.edu/employment-guide/.
Work-study is a federal need-based financial aid work program that allows students (including graduate students) to earn money to meet educational expenses as temporary, non-exempt hourly workers. These graduate students are not considered Graduate Assistants, and should not be coded or compensated as GAs, RAS, or TAs, and are not covered by the collective bargaining agreement. The jobs and levels of pay are the same as those available through student labor, but these are funded 75 percent by financial aid awards made by Office of Student Financial Aid Services and 25 percent is centrally funded. Work hours and schedules depend on job requirements and are set by the hiring department, and work-study students receive bi-weekly paychecks for hours worked. The total number of hours a work-study student has available to work is dictated by the pay rate associated with their job and the amount of the student’s work-study award. Once the award is exhausted, a unit may continue to fund and employ the student in the same job on the student labor payroll. Detailed information about student employment is available at http://studentjobs.uconn.edu/employment-guide/.
Interns and fellows
As defined in University policy, an internship is an experiential job placement designed to enhance the knowledge, skills, and abilities of a student and enhance their employability. Interns perform work as part of their academic programs, typically in an entity outside the university and typically for course credit in their program of study. Graduate students appointed as interns are not Graduate Assistants, and should not be coded or compensated as GAs, RAs, or TAs. To aid graduate interns in the pursuit of their studies, the University may provide scholarships to cover their tuition and/or health insurance. Additionally, interns may occasionally receive compensation for services they perform for their host organization, which, when administered by the University, is paid through Payroll and subject to tax withholding.
A fellowship is awarded to a graduate student to pursue his or her academic program, but does not require the student to do work for the University. Graduate fellows may receive funding from the University or another source that may cover their tuition and provide stipends and health insurance.
Under certain conditions, scholarships (including health insurance subsidies) provided to interns and fellows may be taxable. In cases where a student is provided a scholarship or tuition waiver that is not connected to employment, however, the University is has no general obligation to report the scholarship income or withhold any tax, except in limited cases involving international students. For the majority of students, it is entirely up to the student to claim scholarship income on his or her tax return.