After receiving feedback from the Graduate Assistant Advisory Council, the University of Maryland now allows its graduate students who serve as university employees to waive the Terp Payment Plan enrollment fee in order to encourage participation in the program for better financial planning.

Graduate students who work as teaching, research or administrative assistants receive tuition remission, but get hit with their student fees at the start of each semester, said Will Howell, a member of the council and a communication department teaching assistant. Mandatory fees for full-time graduate students are $769 for fall 2016, and the Terp Payment Plan allows undergraduate and graduate students to pay their university bill in installments across the semester or academic year.

“For most of us, that first month … it was a choice between eating ramen and paying student fees, or being able to eat a healthy diet and paying rent,” said Howell, a fourth-year communication doctoral candidate.

Because of this expense, the council began working with university administration to make the Terp Payment Plan a better option for graduate students, Howell said.

When students enroll in the payment plan, money is debited from their bank account automatically, so they can spread out their payments and not have to worry about responding to monthly bills, said Paul Dworkis, this university’s chief financial officer.

The program also comes with a one-time enrollment fee of $45 for a 4- or 5-month payment plan, $50 for a 10-month payment plan or $80 for an 8-month payment plan, which covers the work of entering and processing information each semester, Dworkis said. The council worked with the division of administration and finance to remove the enrollment fee as a barrier to graduate assistants, he added.

“We were glad to work with them over a period of time and kind of make this accommodation,” Dworkis said. “If somebody saw, ‘Well, I really can’t afford 50 more dollars, so I’ll do something else,’ they don’t have to worry about the $50 [anymore].”

Howell said the council is “very, very grateful” that the university agreed to waive the enrollment fee.

Justine Beaulieu, a former plant sciences graduate student and council member, said she thinks the biggest deterrent to the Terp Payment Plan is not the enrollment fee, but that most students don’t even know about it. During her time on the council, the council also worked to better advertise the program, Beaulieu said.

“Now that they’re able to waive it, you might get a few more students, but again I really think that making students aware of the Terp Payment Plan in the first place is the real issue,” Beaulieu said.

Beaulieu said the council didn’t see the need for the enrollment fee, and she wanted to see the administration help its graduate students “work with a barely livable wage,” noting that graduate students often have additional responsibilities that undergrads don’t.

“I think there are some departments on campus that pay their graduate students,” Beaulieu said. “I think it’s right on that poverty line. Especially for graduate students that have family members or children, it’s really difficult.”

The minimum stipend for a 9.5-month assistantship — the amount of time teaching assistants hold their positions — at this university is $16,144. Christopher Moore, who used the Terp Payment Plan in his last semester at the university, called the program an “invaluable tool.”

While a graduate assistant’s stipend is livable, it requires students to carefully plan their finances, especially in an area with an “extraordinarily high cost of living,” said Moore, a former council member who received his master’s degree in library and information sciences in May 2016.

“Living off a stipend as most graduate students do … it’s a little bit taxing and a little chaotic to kind of balance everything,” Moore said. “And having … even small little fees can really interfere with one’s ability to live comfortably.”