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Budget constraints: Mills aims to cut costs by hiring graduate students in the Center for Academic Excellence

In order to save money, the Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) on campus has taken to hiring Mills graduate students to fill administrative and
tutoring positions.

Graduate students are able to gain teaching experience through their work with CAE, and the department saves money by partially paying their student workers through tuition scholarships.

“We pay half money, half tuition,” said Helen Walter, Director of the Center for Academic Excellence. “So if we were to hire someone from outside, we’d be spending twice as much out of pocket. Our budget is very tight right now and we need to utilize all our resources.”

Walter said hiring graduate students to work for CAE was strictly a matter of using the department’s funds wisely.

“It’s just utilizing our resources in the most efficient manner possible,” she said. “And if we’re talking about other candidates as being undergraduates, then we have an issue if they have to administer an exam for a friend or if they have a full course load and we need 18 hours per week.”

Walter said undergraduate students are restricted to working 18 hours a week, whereas graduate students can work more.

“We are restricted by the M Center on the hours that students work,” Walter said. “All of our peer tutors are restricted to 10 hours a week of work on campus. Furthermore, the 18 hours has to be from Monday through Friday between 9am and 5pm, which is quite restrictive, too.”

There are three positions that graduate students are hired for at the CAE, according to Walter. First is the assistant coordinator position, which is very similar to an administrative position, and requires 18 hours per week. Whoever holds this position helps to administer Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) examinations. The second position is a master tutor, who helps to train all other peer tutors. The master tutor must be certified by the College Reading Learning Association (CRLA), an international peer tutoring association program.

Mike Oppenheim,  a 2011 graduate of the Mills MFA Fiction program, is the only student who holds the third position, which is in place for those students who need help with their English language skills.

While enrolled as a graduate student, Oppenheim worked as a teaching assistant for the English class Fundamentals of Grammar for Academic Writers. He has since been hired to work at CAE as an ESL (English as a Second Language) tutor, and also spends four-and-a-half days in San Francisco teaching English as a second language at the Converse International School of Languages.

“When you’re a graduate student, Mills hires you to help pay off your tuition,” Oppenheim explained. “This is a standard practice for most colleges. The point for me, however, was the practice in teaching.”

The amount of money paid to graduate students for their work is an intricate system, according to Rosa Osborn, Payroll Director at Mills. It is not just one person or area that does all the work; it is a coordinated effort.

The head of each graduate program that is applying for financial aid notifies the M Center that there is going to be a certain number of assistantships, which are a way for graduate students to work for Mills in their chosen field and gain experience while continuing with their education. Financial aid counselors then calculate how much money will go to tuition and how much the student will receive as a stipend. A portion is then set aside to be applied in six payments per semester. Sometimes the money is less; sometimes it is more. It all depends on the financial aid package worked out by financial aid counselors, as not all students need the money every semester.

“We’re just a piece of the pie,” Osborn said. “There’s a whole mechanism that goes into this.”