Other Graduate Education Policies
Management of Graduate Assistantships, Fellowships, and Traineeships for Graduate Students with an Approved Leave of Absence - Guidelines
To address the management of graduate appointments (graduate assistantships, traineeships and fellowships) for graduate students who have been approved for a formal leave of absence (see Policy GSAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence).
These guidelines pertain only to circumstances related to a graduate student’s graduate appointment (assistantship, fellowship or traineeship) when the student has received an approved leave (Short-term Absence, Extended Absence, or Leave of Absence). Issues pertaining to the academic progress of and allowances for a graduate student with an approved leave of absence are addressed in policy GSAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence.
Graduate appointments (graduate assistantships, fellowships and traineeships) provide significant financial support to students pursuing advanced degrees. Circumstances occasionally occur beyond a student’s control that prevent students with graduate assistantships or traineeships from performing the activities required of their appointment, or in the case of graduate fellowships, devoting effort to their scholarly endeavors/research. [Throughout the remainder of this policy, these three types of appointments will be referred to collectively as graduate appointments and those graduate students with graduate appointments are referred to as graduate appointees. In areas where there are distinct differences, they will be referred to separately.]
Consistent with Penn State's continuous effort to support the personal and professional development of all members of our University community, these guidelines seek to reduce the professional and personal stresses that can develop when graduate appointees encounter extenuating circumstances that warrant a temporary absence from their appointment, while continuing their stipend and benefits when possible. Thus, when a student supported by a graduate appointment receives approval for a formal leave of absence, the conditions of the appointment must also be addressed. These guidelines are intended to ensure that the student’s stipend and benefits be maintained to the extent possible during an approved absence. In the case of students appointed to external fellowships and traineeships, these guidelines will be applied secondarily to external funding agency guidelines, which take precedence.
- Graduate Assistantship
- Financial support provided to degree-seeking students enrolled in The Graduate School as an aid to completion of advanced degrees offered by The Graduate School. Such support may be in the form of a graduate teaching assistantship, a graduate research assistantship, a graduate administrative assistantship or a graduate assistantship including a combination of those or other responsibilities. Graduate assistantships include a stipend, tuition remission, and student health insurance premium subsidy. Assistantship activities should be related to the graduate student's disciplinary field and wherever possible tied to the student's program of study. Assistantships may require activities in the classroom, the laboratory or other research environments, or in other areas, with the opportunity for professional development further benefiting from and enriching the student’s educational experience at the University.
- Graduate Fellowship
- A financial award provided to degree-seeking students enrolled in the Graduate School. Fellowships are typically prestigious and competitive awards, awarded via University named endowments, external funding agencies or grants. Fellowships require no activities of the recipient and typically allow the student to focus exclusively on research or scholarly endeavors related to the student’s degree. Graduate fellowships typically include a stipend, tuition remission at the graduate assistant tuition rate, and student health insurance premium subsidy. The benefits of external fellowships may vary.
- Graduate Traineeship
- Financial support provided to degree-seeking students enrolled in the Graduate School. Traineeships are funded by training grants awarded to Penn State by an outside funding agency (e.g. NIH, NSF, etc.) that provides training and research opportunities for graduate pre-doctoral fellows. Graduate traineeships typically include a stipend, tuition remission at the graduate assistant tuition rate, and student health insurance premium subsidy. Training grants are led by a faculty member serving as the training program director.
For graduate assistants:
- The assistantship provider and graduate assistant will agree on what assistantship responsibilities (if any) the graduate assistant will perform during the short-term absence and/or how the assistantship responsibilities may be rescheduled, if possible and appropriate, to accommodate the graduate assistant’s absence (e.g., reasonably extended assistantship hours per week for a finite period upon the graduate assistant’s return to complete the deferred assistantship activities).
- The assistantship provider will ensure that any responsibilities that cannot be completed by the graduate assistant within the absence timeframe will be assigned to another appropriate individual, as necessary.
- No adjustments to the assistantship stipend will be made.
In cases where the assistantship responsibilities cannot be performed during the absence and/or deferred and accommodated by temporary rescheduling upon the graduate assistant’s return, and funding is derived from an outside sponsor that disallows continuation of support during an approved absence, the graduate assistant’s graduate program/department/college should, wherever possible, provide substitute allowable funds to maintain continuity of the assistantship support during the approved absence.
- Issues that cannot be resolved between the assistantship provider and graduate assistant will be determined by the Graduate Program Head, in conjunction with the assistantship provider, if these are not the same individual.
- If the Graduate Program Head and the assistantship provider are the same individual, the issue will be resolved by the associate dean of the college.
For graduate trainees:
- Graduate trainees will coordinate with the program director responsible for their traineeship to adjust the timeline for training activities and scholarly endeavors related to their appointments.
- Any adjustments to traineeship activities must adhere to the administrative guidelines of the funding agency to ensure paid short-term absences are acceptable.
- Issues that cannot be resolved between the training director and graduate trainee will be determined by the Graduate Program Head, in conjunction with the director of the training grant, if these are not the same individual.
- If the Graduate Program Head and the training director are the same individual, the issue will be resolved by the associate dean responsible for graduate education in the academic home of the student’s graduate program.
For graduate fellows:
- Graduate fellows will coordinate with their faculty adviser to adjust the timeline for their fellowship activities and scholarly endeavors related to their appointments.
- Any adjustments to fellowship activities must adhere to the administrative guidelines of the funding agency to ensure paid short-term absences are acceptable.
- Issues that cannot be resolved between the faculty adviser and graduate fellow will be determined by the Graduate Program Head, in conjunction with the student’s faculty advisor, if these are not the same individual.
- If the Graduate Program Head and the student’s advisor are the same individual, the issue will be resolved by the associate dean of the college.
Paid Extended Absence - Extended absences are defined in Policy GSAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence as lasting 3 or more weeks but less than a full semester.
- A graduate student supported by a graduate assistantship, fellowship, or traineeship and receiving an approved Extended Absence under Policy GSAD-906 may request a Paid Extended Absence.
- Graduate assistants:
To be eligible for a Paid Extended Absence a graduate assistant must:
- Be currently appointed on a quarter-, half-, or three quarter-time assistantship.
- Be in good academic standing, as required by their graduate program and the Graduate School.
- In cases where the appointment is held outside the graduate student’s academic program, a written release must be provided by the graduate appointee to their academic program to allow the graduate appointee’s academic information to be released to the supervisor of the unit funding the appointment, if requested.
- Graduate fellows or trainees:
To be eligible for a Paid Extended Absence a graduate fellow or trainee must:
- Be currently appointed on a graduate fellowship or traineeship.
- Be in good academic standing, as required by their graduate program and the Graduate School.
- In cases where the appointment is held outside the graduate student’s academic program, a written release must be provided by the graduate appointee to their academic program to allow the graduate appointee’s academic information to be released to the director of the training grant or fellowship, if requested.
- If the student is on an external fellowship or traineeship, the administrative guidelines of the funding agency must be consulted to ensure paid extended absences are acceptable.
- Graduate assistants:
- Graduate appointees who meet the requirements and are approved for a Paid Extended Absence will be excused from their regular activities for the designated time agreed to under the Extended Absence. If a Paid Extended Absence is approved, health care benefits, including health insurance premium subsidy, as previously applied to graduate appointees and their spouse/dependents as applicable, will remain unchanged.
- A request for a Paid Extended Absence may be denied for a number of reasons, including but not limited to inadequate documentation, repeated requests for Paid Short-Term Absences or Paid Extended Absences, documented unsatisfactory performance, or incompatibility with funding source guidelines. Note that the decision to deny a Paid Extended Absence does not impact the decision to offer an Extended Absence as an academic accommodation; a student can still be approved by their graduate program for an Extended Absence, which could result in an unpaid Extended Absence from their appointment for a specified period of time.
- To the fullest extent possible, Paid Extended Absences should extend through the end of absence, up to the end of the semester.
- Return to Appointment
- A graduate appointee returning from a Paid Leave of Absence during the appointment period shall resume the activities of the original appointment. Assistants will resume assistantship activities, fellows will resume their research/scholarship, and trainees will resume their training.
- If the student is unable to return until after the original appointment end dates, there is no guarantee of the availability of funding upon the individual’s return. However, every consideration should be given to the student for future appointments in a manner consistent with all other graduate students from the student’s graduate program. Taking an Extended Absence will in no way prejudice future assistantship appointments.
Paid Leave of Absence – A Leave of Absence is defined in Policy GSAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence as lasting a full semester.
- Graduate assistantships, fellowships, or traineeships are not available to students on an approved Leave of Absence.
- If a request for a Paid Extended Absence is denied, the graduate appointee has the right to appeal this decision within 10 days of receiving the notification that the request has been denied.
- If the graduate assistant, fellow or trainee is appointed in an academic unit, the appeal is to the dean of the college/school or campus chancellor (or their designee).
- If the graduate assistant is appointed in a non-academic unit, the appeal is to the appropriate budget executive for that unit (or their designee).
Requesting a Paid Extended Absence
- To request a Paid Extended Absence, the graduate appointee should submit the request to the head of the unit providing the appointment in writing, at least three weeks in advance of the requested start of the absence whenever possible, or as soon as it is known that an absence is necessary.
- The unit leader may consult with the assistantship supervisor or fellowship or traineeship adviser/mentor, as applicable, the student’s Graduate Program Head, and the college/school administrator for graduate education for the student’s graduate program (typically an assistant, associate or sr. associate dean, or director of academic affairs).
- The student will be notified in writing within 10 days of the request whether the Paid Extended Absence is approved or not.
- A graduate appointee whose request is approved will also be informed how long the stipend and benefits will continue to be provided (which may or may not extend through the entire Extended Absence).
- Graduate appointee whose request is denied must be provided with a written explanation of the reason for the denial.
- Graduate appointees appealing a decision to deny a Paid Extended Absence should submit the appeal in writing to the appropriate dean/designee, chancellor/designee, or budget executive/designee.
- The graduate appointee should include any additional documentation available to support their request for the Paid Extended Absence.
- The request will be reviewed by the dean/designee, chancellor/designee, or budget executive/designee, in consultation with the head of the unit providing the appointment and the head of the student’s graduate program. A decision will be made within 10 business days.
- The student will be notified in writing by the dean, chancellor, or budget executive’s Office of the final disposition of their request as soon as a decision has been reached. The decision of the dean/designee, chancellor/designee or executive/designee is final.
- In some cases, graduate appointees who have been funded on external funds will continue to receive their regular stipend from the respective grant or contract supporting the appointment, during the period of the Extended Absence, provided it is allowable by the sponsor.
- If the sponsor has terms and conditions that do not permit funding pursuant to these guidelines, the unit in which the appointment is held should fund the leave period from other sources whenever possible.
- Graduate assistants whose appointments are funded with General Funds by departments or other administrative units of the University should continue to receive their stipend from unit resources.
- If the appointing unit supports the request for a Paid Extended Absence but lacks the financial resources to fund both the Paid Extended Absence and the student's replacement (if necessary), the unit should seek the additional funds from the College or higher-level administrative unit in which the graduate appointee is appointed.
Approved by The Graduate School, December 04, 2018
Effective: January 2, 2019