Policies Pertaining to Graduate Assistantships

Original Policy Source APPM Section IV Item 1
Policy Approval Authority President
Responsible Division HRS and Division of Academic Affairs
Responsible University Office Graduate School
Responsible Officer(s) Dean
Contact Person Kayla Doane
Primary Audience Faculty
Status Active
Adoption Date 06-01-2020
Last Review Date 08-15-2023
Policy Category/Categories Faculty & Academics
Student Affairs

Northern Illinois University employs graduate assistants to provide them with enriched learning and research experiences. Through their assistantships, graduate assistants help the university achieve its mission. They educate undergraduates and the public, conduct valuable research and contribute to the achievement of the university’s mission to provide significant service to the institution and the region.

Graduate assistants are first and foremost students. Assistants perform conscientiously and professionally the tasks assigned to them. At the same time, their supervisors respect graduate assistants’ conjoined roles as students and mentees and ensure that assistantship assignments provide enriched opportunities to learn and to hone their craft; and they provide appropriate training, supervision and direction to assistants.

Northern Illinois University subscribes to the Resolution adopted by the Council of Graduate Schools, which, among other provisions, states that once an assistantship is accepted, the prospective student has until April 15 to accept an assistantship or fellowship offered by another institution. After April 15, the prospective student should secure written permission from the offering unit at NIU prior to accepting an assistantship or fellowship offered by another institution.

Graduate Assistant Classifications and Regulations

  • Graduate assistants are designated as:
    • Teaching Assistants. Teaching Assistants aid in the instructional functions of the university. Their duties include providing direct instruction for courses; supervising laboratory discussion sections or studio sections and sessions; tutoring students; mentoring engaged learning experiences for students; grading tests and assignments; developing instructional materials; accompanying or coaching artistic performances; and proctoring examinations. When their duties include any form of oral instruction, assistants hired into this category must meet English proficiency requirements.
    • Research Assistants. Research assistants apply research and artistry concepts, practices, or methods of scholarship and artistry by conducting experiments, creating new works, analyzing data, presenting findings, collaborating with others in preparing publications or exhibitions, presenting at conferences or performances, or conducting institutional research or artistry for an academic or administrative unit.
    • Staff Assistants. Staff Assistants assist in roles other than teaching or research. While duties might vary, these jobs must provide an applied learning experience that is integral to their specific field of study.
  • The Dean of the Graduate School will have final authority over the designation of each graduate assistant classification based on the duties assigned.
  • Graduate students admitted by the Graduate School to a degree-granting program on a regular or conditional basis are eligible for appointment to a graduate assistantship. If a conditionally admitted student fails to meet the conditions designated, admission to the Graduate School is subject to termination, which would result in the termination of any assistantship.
  • Graduate assistants should be graduate students in good standing on the effective dates of their appointment. Students on academic probation may hold an assistantship with an approved exception.
  • Students who have graduated and are no longer in a graduate program are no longer eligible to hold assistantships.
  • Appointment as a graduate assistant does not give faculty status; an assistant's status is that of a graduate student.
  • No student holding a faculty, administrative, or civil service position at Northern Illinois University may concurrently hold a graduate assistantship.
  • Based on Illinois law, a student whose native language is not English must demonstrate competence in spoken English to be appointed a graduate teaching assistant engaging in oral instruction (unless the language of instruction is not English). A minimum score of 50 on the Speaking Proficiency English Assessment Kit (SPEAK) has been set by the university for this purpose. Alternatively, a speaking subset score of 24 on the TOEFL or 7 on the IELTS may establish competency. Departments desiring to require higher scores are free to do so.

Conditions of Employment

  • Graduate students must follow all hiring protocols as defined by Human Resource Services (e.g., I-9 processing, orientation, etc.).
  • Graduate students may not begin employment as a graduate assistant before the start of the term in which they begin their studies.
  • Full-time graduate assistants are hired at 20 hours per week (.5 FTE). Part-time appointments are possible for 15 or 10 hours per week. The Graduate School may allow an appointment of more than 20 hours per week in particular circumstances and during the summer.
  • The following types of appointments may be offered:
    • One semester (Fall or Spring)
    • Academic year positions (9 months)
    • Time frames for summer as appropriate (e.g., Graduate Teaching Assistants for 4-week courses would be different than 8 weeks)
    • Time frames as specified within grants
    • Exceptions to these periods must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School, or their designee, prior to offering the position. No exceptions will be granted that do not comply with state or federal policy.
  • The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) strictly limits international students entering the United States on a non-immigrant visa to 20 hours of total employment per week while the University is in session. During the summer and while the university is not in session, students are not limited to 20 hours. International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) will have the ultimate authority to determine a student’s eligibility to ensure compliance with visa regulations.
  • Assistants should not begin work before the hiring process is finalized.

Tuition Waivers and Fees

The Graduate Council will make a recommendation to the Executive Vice President and Provost as to the minimum monthly assistantship stipends or hourly rate for the following academic year. The Executive Vice President and Provost retains authority to set the minimum stipend and hourly rate for graduate assistants.

During the period of their appointment, graduate assistants who work at least ten hours per week will receive a waiver of the portion of their tuition that is calculated as the instructional charge.  The instructional charge will be calculated for the upcoming fiscal year after the Board of Trustees establishes tuition rates. Graduate assistants are responsible for all other charges associated with tuition. 

Graduate students who completed assistantships during the spring semester receive a comparable tuition waiver for the summer session immediately following their term of appointment. Assistants are eligible for this waiver even if they are not employed during the summer. 

Tuition waivers cannot be used for study-abroad courses and are not applicable to contract courses.

Enrollment Requirements for Graduate Assistants

Graduate students holding assistantships during a fall or spring semester must enroll (and remain) in at least 6 credit hours of course work by the end of the first week of classes. This policy does not supersede any enrollment policies that a program may have (i.e., cohort-based programs with a set curriculum may have different guidelines).

In the summer session, graduate assistants must enroll in at least 1 credit hour. However, assistants who held an appointment in the previous Spring semester are not required to enroll in the following summer term to maintain their assistantship, though they must submit an underload petition. Failure to register as described; failure to remain enrolled for the prescribed number of hours; or failure to secure permission to enroll in fewer hours may result in termination of the appointment upon recommendation by the Graduate School.

Reduction in the required enrollment hours must be approved in advance by the assistant's major department chair and the Graduate School through the underload petition process.

International graduate students on an F1 or J1 visa must also complete an immigration approved underload with International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) as the Graduate School’s underload permission form does not provide permission according to federal regulation. To remain in good standing, permission will only be granted in circumstances permitted by federal regulations.


A graduate assistantship may be terminated according to the following circumstances:

  • Failure to report for work on the reporting date specified in the offering letter constitutes grounds for termination of the assistantship, with no remuneration, at the discretion of the head of the employing unit. Notification of such termination is to be sent, immediately, to Human Resource Services.
  • The assistant is ineligible by virtue of noncompliance with Board of Trustees or University regulations or with federal and state laws and regulations.
  • If, in the opinion of the supervisor or the head of the employing unit, continuation of the assistant in that assignment poses a threat to the safety or well-being (physically, academically, or otherwise) of the assistant or of others. In such a case, the assistant may be reassigned, at the discretion of the head of the employing unit, to other duties if another appropriate assignment exists within the unit, or if not, may be given notice of immediate termination. The grounds for the immediate termination shall be provided to the student in the notice. The student shall be given a chance to appeal the decision, by asking the head of the employing unit for reconsideration of the termination action. During this time, the student may be removed from employment and the workplace and pay will continue.
  • An employing unit may request that a graduate assistant be terminated after (1) notice of the proposed termination and the grounds for such action are communicated to the student and (2) the student is allowed the opportunity to state why they should not be terminated. The Graduate School and Human Resource Services must approve the termination.

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