Time limits on a liberal arts degree have obvious implications


Chelsea Purgahn

Graduating seniors at the Liberal Arts Convocation at the Frank Erwin Center.

Olivia Berkeley

The recent announcement of the College of Liberal Arts to stop funding for graduate students after their sixth year has — if you haven’t noticed — caused some controversy. Graduate students are enraged, administrators are releasing carefully manicured bureaucratic statements and the UT undergraduate population is, for the most part, entirely apathetic. The decision to cease funding might not affect everyone on campus, but it definitely has serious consequences for those trying to earn affordable graduate degrees.

I am sympathetic to the graduate students being affected by COLA’s new funding rules. As a liberal arts student, I couldn’t even begin to imagine trying to earn a graduate degree without help from both my parents and the University. And as unfortunate as it is that graduate students and the COLA can’t seem to work out their differences as of late, I can’t help but think that this would only be an issue for liberal arts student. Part of the appeal of being a liberal arts student is the wide array of major options and ability to double and triple major, which, in this case, might just be responsible for six-plus years of “schooling.” The nature of a degree is responsible for the length it takes to complete, and, as if it hasn’t been said enough, liberal arts degrees are notoriously more unstructured and open-ended. Other dual degree programs, such as the ones found in the UT Law School and the McCombs School of Business (JD and MBA respectively) only take four years to complete. Six or more years may seem extraneous, as well as financially unviable, but it is important. The dialogue between COLA students and administration should not come to a screeching halt because of their differences. Instead, it should inspire a more open line of communication.

Liberal arts major jokes aside, being in COLA means students have the ability to explore their interests, even if that takes more time than every other graduate student at UT and requires the college to make a rule limiting time to degree. If there is one thing I’ve learned being in COLA, it’s that the thirst for knowledge is insatiable — sometimes so much so that it becomes a financial issue for administrators. And while the headline “College of Liberal Arts policy change to stop graduate student funding after sixth year” could be found in The Onion as a satire piece, UT’s Texan version is no made-up story created to highlight comedic elements of the graduate process, despite the fact that there are many.

As a liberal arts student, you learn to take the good with the bad. There will be questions like, “Yeah, but what are you actually going to do with your degree?” and “How is that even practical?” But without an open line of communication between administrators and students, these questions might become reality. Whatever COLA’s next steps are, I hope the College takes into account the implications of limiting graduate degree time, the most important of which is angry graduate students. These are the students that are completing research and assisting in undergraduate lectures, and alienating them will only be detrimental to their future success. There’s a reason why COLA students stick around for so long: they need that time to complete their degrees fully. Either the COLA faces this fact or we will be doomed to another Onion-esque headline.


Berkeley is a Plan II and public relations sophomore from Austin. Follow Berkeley on Twitter @oliviaberkeley.