Graduate Assistantships at Western Illinois University
Graduate assistants are an integral part of the intellectual community at Western Illinois University. The purpose of graduate education is to develop scholars and professionals equipped with the knowledge and skills to succeed in their chosen fields. By working under the supervision of faculty mentors or administrative professionals, graduate assistants gain valuable experience relevant to their profession.
Graduate assistantships are academic merit-based awards that recognize outstanding achievement and provide financial support to students as they pursue their degrees. Both the university and the student benefit from the assistantship. The student receives professional experience and financial support, while the university gains a student assistant dedicated to advancing its mission.
Graduate assistants are expected to balance the challenges presented by both the assistantship duties and the requirements of the graduate degree. As such, a student must demonstrate satisfactory progress toward the completion of scholarly tasks as well as assignments in the workplace. All graduate students are encouraged to consult with assistantship supervisors and departmental graduate advisors throughout this process.
Students with full-time assistantships are required to work up to 20 hours per week or teach up to 6 semester hours per semester, and will receive a monthly stipend and waiver of tuition. Current stipend amounts, policies, procedures, and additional information concerning the assistantship program may be found online at wiu.edu/grad. Assistantship applications received prior to March 15 may be given priority consideration.
Categories of Assistantships
1. Teaching Assistant (TA) - A Teaching Assistant is the instructor of record for a class or laboratory, within a specific academic department of the University. Teaching Assistants’ duties consist of one or more of the following types of activities:
- conducting classes or laboratories,
- preparing lectures,
- constructing and grading tests/quizzes,
- holding student conferences,
- assigning course/laboratory grades,
- other duties related to the assigned course/laboratory.
2. Teaching Support Assistant (TSA) - A Teaching Support Assistant provides assistance/support to an academic course instructor. Teaching Support Assistants’ primary (i.e., greater than 50%) duties consist of one or more of the following types of activities:
- taking attendance,
- proctoring exams/quizzes,
- developing academic instructional materials,
- facilitating review/study sessions,
- other instructional support services.
3. Research Assistant (RA) - A Research Assistant is assigned to faculty members to assist with their research. Research Assistants’ primary duties (i.e., greater than 50%) consist of one or more of the following types of activities:
- conducting experiments,
- collecting or analyzing data,
- collaborating in preparing publications,
- library research,
- other research activities
4. Graduate Assistant (GA) - A Graduate Assistant supports the administrative and operational functions of the University or approved external agencies. Graduate Assistants’ primary duties (i.e., greater than 50%) consist of one or more of the following types of activities:
- technical support services (i.e., web, equipment management, etc.),
- advising students,
- clerical support,
- recruiting students,
- event development/management,
- other support services.
To apply for an assistantship, an Application for Assistantship (available from the School of Graduate Studies or at www.wiu.edu/grad) must be submitted along with three letters of recommendation (some programs require specialized recommendation letters) and a statement of personal goals. The application, letters, and statement must be submitted to the School of Graduate Studies before an assistantship contract may be written.
Tuition Waiver Benefit
Graduate assistants receive a waiver of tuition (upon receipt of a signed contract) for the period of appointment plus a maximum of one summer session adjacent to (preceding or following) the employment period. If eligible, the summer tuition waiver is automatically applied for the summer following the end of the contract period; students must notify the Graduate School at the time of signing a fall contract if they choose to use it the preceding summer. The waiver does not include insurance costs or student fees. Tuition waivers may be revoked if the assistant does not fulfill at least two months of the regular contract.
Tuition Waiver Taxation
Per Internal Revenue Service regulations (IRC 127), taxes will be withheld on graduate assistant tuition waiver amounts exceeding $5,250 in the calendar year (January-December). Research and teaching assistant tuition waivers are exempt from taxation under current tax laws. For more information, please visit wiu.edu/graduate_studies/current_students/tax_questions.php or contact the School of Graduate Studies.
Full paychecks for fall contracts with semester-long employment dates will be issued in October, November, December, and January. There are five paychecks issued to those with spring semester-long contracts: 1/2 check in February; full checks in March, April and May; and 1/2 check in June. Payday is the first of the month unless that day is a weekend or holiday, in which case payday will be the weekday before the first. Assistants are required to participate in direct deposit of wages using the financial institution of their choice.
Students must meet all of the conditions listed below in order to hold an assistantship position:
1. Must have a graduate assistantship application, personal statement of goals, and three letters of recommendation on file in the Graduate School.
2. Must be a degree-seeking graduate student regularly accepted into a master’s, specialist, or doctoral program. Probationary, non-degree, post-baccalaureate certificate, and second bachelor’s degree students are not eligible to hold assistantship positions.
3. Must have a cumulative undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 (based on all hours attempted at all institutions attended) if no graduate-level courses have been completed. Must maintain a 3.0 or higher graduate GPA once graduate-level courses have been completed.
4. Must be enrolled in at least nine semester hours of graduate coursework or undergraduate deficiencies if holding a graduate, teaching support, or research assistant position for fall/spring; or at least six semester hours if holding a teaching assistant position for fall/spring; or three semester hours for summer (any position). If it is the assistant's last semester of coursework (as verified by the degree plan), it is acceptable to be registered for only the remaining required courses.
5. Sign an assistantship contract and complete all required employment paperwork.
Selection of Assistants
Employing departments are responsible for conducting interviews and selecting the most qualified candidate for the position. University policy requires the following hiring records to be retained in department/unit offices for a minimum of three years:
1. Selection criteria for each assistantship position
2. List of candidates in each selection pool
3. Documentation relative to each candidate’s qualifications
4. Interview notes (if applicable)
5. List of reasons for selection and non-selection of candidates
6. Copies of correspondence sent to candidates awarded assistantship position and those not awarded the position
In order for an assistantship contract to be written, the following must occur:
1. Employing department sends completed Graduate Assistantship Contract Request to the Graduate School.
2. Student meets eligibility requirements listed above.
3. Contracts are written for at least 66% time. Departments may split a graduate assistant, however, contracts are not written until both employing departments submit requests.
4. Contracts are typically written for a minimum of 4-months (fall and spring semesters) or 2-months (summer session). Contract requests submitted to the Graduate School not meeting those expectations are subject to review and consideration by the Director of the Graduate School.
5. Adequate funds must be available in a graduate or teaching assistant position line in the employing department’s budget.
6. Externally Funded Assistantship Agreements must be on file in the Graduate School before a contract will be written for an external graduate assistant.
Administration of Assistantship Contracts
Once a contract is written, students are sent their contract(s) via WIU email. Students must sign the contract(s) and return it to the Graduate School prior to beginning work. All employment paperwork is administered by the Graduate School. Other required employment documents are:
1. I-9 Form – verifies identity and employment eligibility; Section 1 must be completed on or before the first date of the contract.
2. W-4 Form – employee tax withholding statement
3. Authorization of Deposit – employees are required to participate in the direct deposit of wages as a condition of employment
4. Ethics Training – state law requires annual training of all state employees
All graduate assistants must complete an Authorization for Deposit of Recurring Payment form which allows assistants to receive monthly stipends electronically from WIU. Additionally, if this is the student's first period of employment at WIU or if changes are necessary, an Employment Eligibility Verification (I-9) form and an Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate (W-4) must be completed in the Graduate School within three days of the contract's begin date.
The Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act (Act)(325 ILCS 5/4) mandates that all personnel of higher education institutions, including graduate assistants, report cases of suspected child abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Family Services' (DCFS) toll-free, 24-hour Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-25-ABUSE (22873). Effective July 13, 2012, the Act requires any person who enters into State of Illinois higher education employment to sign a statement on a form prescribed by DCFS to affirm that the employee has knowledge and understanding of the reporting requirements of the Act. The statement, Acknowledgement of Mandated Reporter Status, must be signed, dated, and returned prior to a contract being written.
All graduate assistants under contract to the University will be assessed the student health insurance fee. A brochure explaining the coverage of the student health insurance program is available at the Student Health Insurance Office, lower level of Beu Health Center, (309)298-1882. Student health insurance may be waived if the student provides proof of equal or better deductible.
Graduate assistants must adhere to the same standards of professional ethics as permanent employees. All graduate assistants must comply with The State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (5ILCS 430/5-10) by completing the annual online training. Within 30 days of their start date, newly hired assistants must review the WIU Ethics Orientation for Employees document and electronically submit the signature/certification page to the Office of the Vice President of Administrative Services, Sherman 200. The document is available on STARS under Employee Compliance.
All graduate assistants are required to complete online sexual harassment prevention training in accordance with the Illinois Human Rights Act and in support of the University's sexual misconduct policy. This training is administered by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access. You will receive a personalized training link from Workplace Answers in your WIU email account. This training needs to be completed within 30 days of hire.
In accordance with state statute, teaching assistants engaged in oral instruction in the classroom should be people who possess adequate competence in spoken English (unless the language of instruction is not English). For students whose native language is not English, this competence must be evaluated by the department chair. Certification of such evaluation is required on the Graduate Assistant Contract Request which the department chair must submit to the Graduate School.
Teaching assistants are required to complete training on the WIUP University Information Management Systems (MVS) so they are able to enter grades online for the courses which they are assigned to teach. It is the responsibility of the teaching assistant to contact the Office of Human Resources ((309)298-1971 or room 105, Sherman Hall) to schedule the one-hour training.
It is recommended by the Graduate School that graduate assistants not hold employment other than the assistantship.
Lump Sum Payment Request – Graduate Assistant
Periodically, graduate assistants may perform duties in addition to their regular contract responsibilities. Supplemental pay for graduate assistants are processed by Lump Sum Payment Request – Graduate Assistant form available online at: www.wiu.edu/graduate_studies/faculty_and_staff_resources/forms/lumpsumform.pdf. This form of payment is not intended for continuous payments.
Resignation/termination of an assistantship by a student or by a department/unit must be made to the Graduate School in writing. The employing unit or the Graduate School may terminate an assistantship contract for cause or if eligibility requirements are not met. As soon as a graduate assistant has been terminated or has resigned, an email notification will be sent to the department’s fiscal agent, the supervisor, and the student (using WIU email address). Tuition waivers may be revoked if the assistant does not fulfill the original term of the contract.
Evaluation of Performance
Periodic performance evaluations of assistantship personnel are not mandatory. However, the Graduate School encourages hiring departments to provide some form of evaluation to assistants each semester. As such, a sample evaluation form is available for departments at wiu.edu/graduate_studies/faculty_and_staff_resources/forms/GAEvaluationForm.docx.
An Assistantship Personnel Incident Report (wiu.edu/graduate_studies/faculty_and_staff_resources/forms/GAIncidentReport.docx) form is also available for the purpose of recording inappropriate behavior/performance incidences. All evaluations and incident reports should be retained in the hiring department records.
All assistantship personnel must record their hours worked via an online time reporting system. This time report is not directly related to monthly stipend payments. Instructions for completing the time report may be found at wiu.edu/grad/GATimeReportingInstructions.pdf.
The School of Graduate Studies recognizes that the weekly scheduling of graduate assistant hours may vary across departments due to the variety of departmental needs. The Graduate Studies policy is meant to encompass the majority of situations and provide guidance for departments and graduate students. The Director of Graduate Studies should be consulted if a department’s needs require a substantial deviation from these guidelines.
For most departments, a set schedule of a number of hours per week (20 for full award, 13 for 2/3 award) is the norm. Departments using this schedule should ensure that the total number of hours worked during the semester meets the standard for the amount of the assistantship. Departmental decisions to alter the GA schedule (e.g., to exclude duties during the first week or finals week) should increase the number of hours in the other weeks to account for the difference.
Assistantship personnel who are scheduled to work on a day that is listed on the academic calendar as a holiday or a University closure are excused from working that day and do not need to make up the hours later. Normally, assistants are not expected to work on a holiday or during the weeks of Spring Break and Thanksgiving Break unless it is written into their job description as an expectation. In this case, the assistant shall be compensated with equal time off or lump sum payment, as determined by unit policy or decision of supervisor.
While it is understood that individual departmental needs may demand additional student hours at certain times in a semester, care should be taken to ensure that the increased hours during those periods do not impede the student’s academic progress. The number of hours during any one week should not exceed 20-25% more than the usual amount (a total of 24 hours for a full GA; 16 hours for a 2/3 GA). The overage should be documented and accounted for in a reduction of hours in other weeks.
Departments are encouraged to monitor the number of assistantship hours worked by means of assigned office or lab hours, during which grading, research assistance, and other preparatory tasks may be accomplished for supervising faculty or the department. In cases where this solution is impractical, some other method by which the department can monitor hours worked should be documented.
In all cases, graduate assistants should know the average number of hours that their assistantship duties require and should be encouraged to meet with their supervisor to discuss their assignment and the balance of hours between academic and assistantship duties. Clarification on these guidelines may be provided by the School of Graduate Studies.