Policies Pertaining to Graduate Assistantships

Original Policy Source APPM Section IV Item 1
Policy Approval Authority President
Responsible Division Division of Academic Affairs
Responsible University Office Graduate School
Responsible Officer(s) Dean
Contact Person Donna Smith
Primary Audience Faculty
Status Active
Effective Adoption Date 06-01-2020
Last Review Date 11-07-2022
Policy Category/Categories Faculty & Academics
Student Affairs

Northern Illinois University employs graduate assistants in order to provide them enriched learning experiences. Through their graduate assistantships, students receive intensive mentoring, which contributes to the development of the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to become the next generation of innovators and scholar-experts in their fields of study.

As mentored researchers and teachers, graduate assistants help the university achieve its mission. They educate undergraduates and the public, and they contribute to the achievement of the university’s mission to provide significant service to the institution and the region.

Despite the important contributions that graduate assistants make to the institutional mission, the university primarily invests in graduate assistants and any tuition waiver associated with assistantships in order to enhance the education and training of graduate students.

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

Appointment of a Graduate Assistant

  1. Graduate assistants are appointed by administrative units of the university receiving a budgetary allocation for this purpose, subject to compliance with current applicable University policies and procedures.
  2. 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.  Hiring units are cautioned against appointing any conditionally-admitted student to an assistantship. If a conditionally-admitted student fails to meet the conditions designated, admission to the Graduate School is subject to termination, which results also in termination of any assistantship. Non-immigrant students admitted on a conditional basis in order to pursue intensive English language training are prohibited from holding an assistantship until they are regularly-admitted to a degree-granting program.
  3. Graduate assistants shall be graduate students in good standing on the effective dates of their appointment. Students on academic probation are ineligible to begin a graduate assistantship appointment.
  4. A graduate assistantship appointment may not begin before the end of the term preceding the students' term of admission to the Graduate School.
  5. Graduate assistants are designated as:
    1. Teaching Assistants. Teaching Assistants aid in the instructional functions of the university. Their duties may include but are not limited to providing direct instruction in classroom, laboratory, and discussion sections, or in studio settings; 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 the requirements outlined in 35 below.  
    2. Research Assistants. Research assistants apply research concepts, practices, or methods of scholarship by conducting experiments, analyzing data, presenting findings, collaborating with others in preparing publications, or conducting institutional research for an academic or administrative unit.
    3. Staff Assistants. Staff Assistants assist in roles other than teaching or research. Duties of a staff assistant may include but are not limited to serving as a resident adviser, counselor, academic adviser, office support, or library assistant.
  6. The Dean of the Graduate School shall be responsible for approving the designation of each graduate assistant based on the duties assigned.
  7. Each year the Graduate Council will make a recommendation to the President and Executive Vice President and Provost as to the minimum monthly assistantship stipends or hourly rate for the following academic year.
  8. Students accept assistantship appointments for the time period specified in the offering letter and should not expect routine renewal or extension of appointments.
  9. Appointments shall be full (20 hours)-, three-quarter (15 hours)-, or half-time (10 hours). It shall be the prerogative of the hiring unit to determine the appropriate duties of graduate assistants. Assistants holding a full-time appointment will be expected to work no more than 20 hours per week; those on three-fourths appointment not more than 15 hours per week; and those on half-time appointment not more than 10 hours per week.
  10. A student may hold two graduate assistantships for which the terms of appointment overlap, only if each of the assistantships is half-time during the period of overlap and if together the hours of the appointment do not exceed 20 per week.
  11. Graduate assistants will be required to perform duties during periods of their appointment when the university faculty is regularly on duty. Requirements for performance of duties during university academic recess periods or other specific times must be agreed upon in advance in writing, preferably at the time of the appointment, between the graduate assistant and the employing university unit.
  12. A graduate assistant may not accept additional employment in any capacity with Northern Illinois University except by permission of the chair of the major department, the student's academic adviser, the head of the unit in which the graduate assistantship is held, and Human Resource Services. Hiring units must not permit graduate assistants to begin working outside their assistantship assignment without first securing permission from Human Resource Services.  Non-immigrant graduate students are strictly prohibited by federal regulations from working more than 20 hours per week while classes are in session.

Tuition Waivers, Fees, and Student Health Insurance

  1. During the period of their appointment, full-, three-quarter- and half-time graduate assistants 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.  If an assistantship does not extend over an entire academic term, the student is liable for the payment of in-state or out-of-state tuition, depending upon his or her residency, for the remainder of the term according to the following schedule:

    Weeks of Appointment

    Percentage of Waiver







  2. A graduate assistant holding an assistantship for eight full weeks (or multiple appointments for a combination of 8 full weeks) between the date of spring semester graduation exercises and August 15 is eligible for a tuition waiver during the summer term. If an assistantship appointment(s) does not extend over any eight weeks during that time, the student is liable for a portion of in-state and/or out-of-state tuition in the summer according to the following schedule:

    Weeks of Appointment

    Percentage of Waiver







  3. In addition, graduate assistants on appointment during a spring semester receive a tuition waiver for the summer session immediately following their term of appointment, if they are employed for at least eight weeks during the spring semester. Assistants are eligible for this waiver even if they are not employed during the summer. 
  4. Tuition waivers cannot be used for study-abroad courses and are not applicable to contract courses.
  5. Graduate students are automatically charged student health insurance coverage only if the student is enrolled for at least 9 semester hours of course work in a semester or summer session. Other students may elect to purchase health insurance by contacting the Student Insurance Office prior to the start of the academic term. The University provides no life insurance coverage for graduate assistants.
  6. No student holding a faculty, administrative, or civil service position at Northern Illinois University may concurrently hold a graduate assistantship.
  7. Appointment as a graduate assistant does not give faculty status; an assistant's status is that of a graduate student. As such, the assistant is expected to abide by regulations pertaining to such students.

Enrollment Requirements for Graduate Assistants

  1. Graduate students holding assistantships during a fall or spring semester are expected to enroll in 9 semester hours of course work no later than the close of business on the first day of classes. In the summer session, graduate assistants are expected to enroll for 6 semester hours no later than the close of business on the first day of classes. However, assistants who held an appointment in a spring semester and who remain degree-seeking students are not required to enroll in the following summer term in order 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 immediate termination of the appointment by Human Resource Services.
  2. Reduction of up to 3 semester hours in the expected course load requires the graduate assistant to consult with his/her degree program coordinator and adhere to program policy on enrollment. Failure to adhere to program policy on enrollment may result in termination of the graduate assistant and/or dismissal from the program. (For eligibility restrictions, see 26 below).
  3. Reduction of more than 3 semester hours in the course load must be approved in advance, in writing (via the online underload petition) by the assistant's major department chair and the Graduate School.
  4. Underloads for more than 3 semester hours will be granted only under extraordinary circumstances or as authorized in the Graduate Catalog or in the Academic Policies and Procedures Manual. For example, an underload for more than 3 semester hours will be granted to a student whose assistantship duties require sustained participation in a summer field school, which because of the field school’s location precludes completion of additional coursework. Or, for example, a graduate assistant who held an appointment in spring semester and is appointed to teach a course in the summer may receive permission to enroll in less than 3 semester hours.
  5. International graduate students on an F1 or J1 visa must enroll in 9 semester hours in the fall and spring semesters, unless receiving permission, in advance, for fewer hours from the office of the Dean of Graduate School. Such permission may be granted only in circumstances permitted by federal regulations.

Resignation and Termination

  1. 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 must secure written permission from the offering unit at NIU prior to accepting an assistantship or fellowship offered by another institution. Likewise, prospective students who have accepted another institution’s offer on or after April 15 are expected to secure a release from that institution in order to accept an assistantship or fellowship offer at NIU.   
  2. After April 15, a prospective assistant may rescind an accepted appointment provided that he/she does not accept an assistantship or fellowship at another institution. As a courtesy to the hiring unit and other prospective assistants, an individual who wishes to decline a previously-accepted appointment should first discuss the decision with the head of the hiring unit and convey the final decision in writing as soon as possible.
  3. Prior to the start of an assistantship appointment, a hiring unit, the Graduate School, or Human Resource Services may rescind an offer in writing, if the prospective assistant fails to meet academic or other expectations of the hiring unit or the Graduate School or in the case of an assistant being rehired, fails to meet performance expectations of the hiring unit or other requirements. Additionally, if the prospective assistant’s conduct indicates that inauguration of an appointment may prove deleterious to the health or safety of others or impede or distract from achievement of the unit or institutional mission and goals, then an appointment may be rescinded. When a decision to rescind an offer is reached, the hiring unit, Graduate School, and Human Resource Services shall consult and agree to the decision before the hiring unit informs the prospective assistant.
  4. After a graduate assistant begins an appointment, the assistant may with two weeks written notification, resign that appointment. Whether the resignation is effective immediately, at some point prior to the conclusion of two weeks, or at the conclusion of two weeks shall be determined by the needs of the hiring unit as defined by the assistant’s supervisor and the head of the hiring unit. Hiring units must immediately notify Human Resource Services by email to ensure that the assistant is not overpaid. Written notification of acceptance of the resignation, which must be sent to the student and which must include the date of resignation, shall be forwarded along with a PAF and the student’s resignation letter to Human Resource Services.
  5. A graduate assistant may be terminated by Human Resource Services, the Graduate School, or the employing unit after (1) notice of the proposed termination and the grounds for such action are communicated to the student and (2) the student is allowed one opportunity to state why he/she should not be terminated (see Section IV). If an assistantship is terminated during an academic term, the student should expect there to be some tuition liability for that term. Termination of a graduate assistant position cannot be in violation of federal or state employment law and university policy prohibiting discrimination.
  6. Notwithstanding any other statements in University policy, practice or procedure, assistants shall have their appointments terminated immediately if, during the term of their appointments, they (1) are academically dismissed, suspended, or through disciplinary action have their on-campus movement or their interactions with others restricted in such a way as to preclude performance of assigned duties; (2) are placed in a probationary status; (3) are found otherwise to be ineligible according to university policy or federal or state law. Any deviation from termination due to probationary status shall be possible only upon request from the major department with final approval by the office of the Dean of the Graduate School.

Legal Declarations

  1. The Federal Tax Reform Act and relevant state laws dictate the university’s treatment of stipends or hourly pay and tuition waivers. Graduate assistantship payments, whether paid by stipend or hourly wage are considered wages and hence must be taxed and reported as taxable income. A portion of the tuition waiver awarded a staff assistant may be subject to taxation. Prior to accepting a graduate assistantship, prospective students are urged to consult an independent tax professional about their potential tax liability.
  2. The Federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 mandates that any graduate assistant employed by Northern Illinois University after November 6, 1986 must either be a U.S. citizen or possess current employment authorization from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). According to federal law, the assistant must present original documentation within three days of the effective date of hire ( first day of pay) or risk cancellation of the assistantship.
  3. On the basis of Illinois law, a student whose native language is not English must demonstrate competence in spoken English in order 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) administered at NIU 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.
  4. The State of Illinois mandates that no state agency (including a state university) may initially employ or retain in employment any individual who is in default on an educational loan for a period of six months or more and in the amount of $600 or more unless a satisfactory loan repayment arrangement is made no later than six months after the start of employment. As defined in Public Act 85-827 (paragraph 3552a), an educational loan includes any student loan made possible through funding from the State of Illinois or any other loan from public funds from Illinois or elsewhere, made for the purpose of financing an individual's attendance at an institution of higher education. In order to comply with the Act, every university employee must sign a written statement declaring whether he or she is in default as described above. The statement is contained on the Personal Data Form. If in default, the student must, in order to retain the assistantship for more than six months, make a "satisfactory repayment arrangement" with the lender/guarantor. The act specifies that a "satisfactory" repayment arrangement may not exceed 20 percent of the gross monthly income of the borrower.
  5. Illinois statute (Illinois School Code 5/30-17.1, "Scholarships-Draft Registration") requires students receiving state funded financial aid (i.e., tuition waiver scholarship associated with a graduate assistantship appointment) submit Selective Service Registration Compliance documentation to the university.

Approved by Graduate Council, May 4, 1992
Amended by Graduate Council, November 1, 1993; June 29, 2010; February 6, 2012; April 7, 2014; December 1, 2014; May 4, 2015; November 2, 2015; 
Editorial modifications, June 5, 1997; March 1, 1999; January 20, 2005; July 13, 2010; May 22, 2017

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