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John just got accepted to a Ph.D. program in Computer Science. He also received a fellowship in the form of TA-RA-ships which comes with a stipend of $34,000/year for 4 years.

However, John is currently receiving Disability Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the U.S government which prohibits him from having any income.

He is only interested to have his tuition covered without receiving extra money.

1) Is it okay for John to ask the university to forfeit the stipend? (or for any other reasons than the above).

2) Can John ask rather to receive the stipend, to have the amount apply to his tuition after the 4th year?

John appreciates your thoughts on this... Thanks :)

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    I took quite a bit time to search for the answer to your question, I failed to find any useful and reliable answer. I did see a related question Does the proposed tax reform make it so that you have to pay taxes on scholarships? on Personal Finance and Money SE, but that's an old news. I strongly suggest you to ask a question there to see if any expert have an answer for you. – scaaahu Mar 11 '18 at 10:02
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    "Fellowship" is very different from "TA/RA-ship". If it were literally a fellowship, this might work. If it is teaching and research assistantships, probably not - if you work, the university has to pay you (minimum wage laws), and if you don't work, then they have no reason to waive your tuition either. – Nate Eldredge Mar 11 '18 at 15:40
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    If John can do the work of a TA then this casts doubt on his disabled status with the social security administration. – Brian Borchers Mar 11 '18 at 16:28
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    I think it would be important to consult an attorney, but it's quite possible that even being offered the position is disqualifying for social security and it could be considered fraudulent to try to mask that fact by refusing compensation. – Bryan Krause Mar 12 '18 at 16:07
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You can certainly ask for the stipend to be withdrawn. Most universities are happy to spend less money. They may not be happy if this also means that you are not doing the TA/RA work, depending on whether they have enough TAs/RAs.

You can also ask for the stipend to apply to tuition - no harm in asking. Less likely that this will be granted than just stipend withdrawal.

Volunteer work is usually accepted, so if you want to do the TA/RA work you may be able to, even without the stipend. The legal status of such work is the question, which you should ask a lawyer about.

  • The university should be able to address any legal questions. You don't, likely, need to hire a lawyer for such advice. – Buffy Oct 5 '18 at 11:21

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