Thanks to an extraordinary grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, UCLA will be able to compete more effectively for exceptional graduate students in the humanities.
The New York City-based foundation has awarded UCLA a $6 million grant to create an endowment that will support the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowships of Distinction. The fellowships are designed to increase the university's success in recruiting quality graduate students.
"This is a significant grant," said Tim Stowell, dean of the humanities division of UCLA's College of Letters and Science. "Graduate support is instrumental to ensuring excellence throughout the humanistic disciplines."
Every year, the nation's leading graduate programs in each field compete to attract the top prospective Ph.D. students. Institutions with burgeoning endowments and greater unrestricted resources offer higher fellowship amounts and often do not have the high cost of living, especially rental costs, that Los Angeles residents face. To be competitive, UCLA must keep up with increases in stipends and guaranteed multi-year funding.
Once the fellowship program is in place, more than 25 new and continuing Ph.D. students will benefit from it each year.
"The Mellon funds will improve the university's ability to attract top talent, speeding the rate at which students complete graduate degrees and decreasing the amount of debt they incur in the process," Stowell said.
The ability to attract top graduate students is key for achieving and maintaining excellence at an institution of higher learning, as top graduate programs tend to attract top faculty, who collaborate with their students on research projects.
"It's a classic chicken-and-egg situation," Stowell said. "Universities need great professors to attract the best graduate students, but they also need top graduate students to attract the best professors. They go hand in hand."
Because graduate students also serve as teaching assistants, they play a key role in undergraduate education as well.
"Our main problem in recruiting new graduate students has been inadequate funding while being located in an area with an extremely high cost of living," Stowell said. "We are losing many top graduate students to competing institutions even though the students' interests are highly compatible with those of our faculty."
In some cases, funding packages offered by the 88-year-old university have lagged as much as $10,000 a year behind those offered by competing universities, especially private institutions with hefty endowments built up over the course of several hundred years.
UCLA's competitive disadvantage has been exacerbated by the fact that out-of-state and international students have to pay nonresident tuition, currently almost $15,000 per year, bringing the annual cost of tuition and fees to approximately $24,000. Many other universities do not charge nonresident tuition for students who work as research or teaching assistants, but the University of California does, and the cost has to be borne by UCLA's departments as part of the admissions packages offered to the best students.
Last year, the situation became so dire that the College of Letters and Science redirected $4.5 million in funds earmarked for teaching positions to graduate student support for recruitment purposes.
UCLA's disadvantage in attracting graduate students contrasts sharply with its stature in undergraduate admissions. This year, UCLA once again was the most popular college campus in the nation, attracting more undergraduate applications than any other.
"Until now, we've been a better school than we could afford to be when it came to graduate support," Stowell said. "This support will truly elevate the stature of our graduate student population and, in turn, the excellence of humanities at UCLA."