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Graduate School Funding: Both a Gift and Burden
September 1, 2011 - 1:30pm

According to the Chair of my program – my application had to be “pretty dismal” in order to be rejected. She was being flippant of course; she had carefully reviewed my transcript and suggested a couple of courses to take to increase my chances of acceptance. However her point really was to warn me that being a part-time student meant that I wouldn’t be offered funding, implying that there wasn’t much reason to reject my application, assuming that I met all eligibility requirements.

Having sent out many letters of acceptance with this job, I was well aware that I wouldn’t be receiving any scholarship support from the department. The financial burden of the degree was something I had to consider before deciding to apply, and while I can’t say the impact of tuition fees has been negligible, to my mind it’s well worth the sacrifice.
Which brings me to the point of this post, which is more or less a rant: I am constantly shocked at the sense of entitlement and expectation that is consistently thrown at me by the students I deal with.
Some of my favourite examples are:

  • Students who are already receiving tens of thousands of dollars in support, demanding more.
  • International students who insist that we pay their moving and travel expenses and offer enough support so their families can move here too.
  • Students who don't like the fact that assistantships are employment and are therefore taxable income.
  • Students who show up in my office months after all scholarship deadlines have passed asking what I can give them.
  • Undergraduate students who tell me that they will use this institution as a bargaining chip to get the other graduate schools to offer them more funding – and that we are simply a last resort as a school.
  • Students who ultimately lay down ultimatums: either give them more money or they will take their business elsewhere.

One thing I can’t comprehend is the attitude of those students who appear to be applying to graduate school on a whim. Many students who demand more and more from us seem like they simply woke up one morning and said “I think I’ll apply to graduate school today” without any consideration for living expenses, or the time and energy required to commit to such a path.
I also can’t grasp why students seem to think that the institution should be paying them – and that being a student equates to employment. They feel that the institution should be so positively delighted in the fact that they are attending there, that we should not only waive all tuition and auxiliary fees, but also provide them with additional funding to keep them in the lifestyle to which they’d previously been accustomed.
I am utterly baffled by this. Now to be clear: I am not confused by the notion that being a student is expensive and a burden. I wish that all students had the opportunity to engage in higher education – as I know that there are many potential students out there with the ability to change the world if given the tools to do so, if only they were not prevented by the lack of financial means. And I completely appreciate the fact that working while being a student is often counter-productive (boy, do I know this) – so any support that we can provide to ease the way for students is only to everyone’s benefit.
But I simply cannot abide by those demanding students who don’t view academia as a privilege. More than one student in my own cohort expressed surprise when I broke the (apparently astonishing) news that they were in fact accepted into the program. Yes, there were students who were rejected – their presence there was by no means a guarantee. I suppose it’s the ingratitude that bothers me the most – to be accepted into graduate school is an honour, and to be given funding is a gift. So to have so many students act as if they were not only entitled to be there, but to be there with financial support, and often demanding more really makes me wonder where this sense of entitlement comes from.

Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada

Deanna England is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.


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