When Jerel Hilding decided to leave his professional dance troupe for academia, he thought one of the perks of a teaching job might be free college tuition for his children.
He was surprised to learn that Kansas University and many of the other state universities he applied to didn't offer tuition waivers.
"We don't really get any perks," said Hilding, an associate professor of dance. "We even have to pay for parking."
Now, with state universities pondering stiff tuition increases, the debate about tuition waivers for faculty, staff, their spouses and dependents has been revived.
The state's new concept of "tuition ownership," which allows universities to keep the tuition they collect instead of having it forwarded to the state, would allow universities more control of tuition policies.
Four state universities say they're considering the waiver option. KU administrators say they aren't planning to include waivers in their five-year tuition plans, but KU's Faculty Council recently asked administrators to reconsider.
Alfred Lata, a chemistry lecturer and Faculty Council member, said waivers would help recruit and retain faculty and staff.
"I don't know if (not having waivers) would keep anyone from coming to KU," he said. "It would be much more pleasant to come if they knew free tuition was in the future."
Others pursuing waivers
Final plans aren't in place, but officials at Emporia State University say they will create some sort of waiver program in the next five years. Administrators at Fort Hays State University and Pittsburg State University say they're considering waivers, too.
Though Kansas State University administrators haven't included waivers in their five-year plan, some faculty and student leaders have shown public support for them.
But giving out free tuition to some while possibly doubling rates for other students might be politically unpopular.
"The board's been pretty vocal for a long time about the challenge of recruiting and retaining quality faculty," said Kim Wilcox, president of the Kansas Board of Regents. "Finding ways to get faculty in Kansas is a major goal. Raising tuition the same time we're giving tuition waivers is a difficult policy decision we'd have to look at closely."
Those concerns were enough to convince Wichita State University officials to not pursue waivers.
"We feel it's more important to keep tuition low," spokesman Joe Kleinsasser said.
It's hard to judge how much financial effect waivers would have. First, a decision would have to be made whether to grant free or discounted tuition, and whether faculty, staff or both would be eligible. Spouses as well as dependents could be included.
In the past four years, 567 students received Coca-Cola grants, which are $1,000 scholarships to incoming KU freshmen who are children of faculty and staff. If those students were receiving full tuition waivers, it would mean about $1.6 million less to KU's coffers.
But tuition waivers might convince more children of faculty and staff to attend KU instead of going elsewhere, leading to an even larger drain on KU accounts.
Despite cost concerns, Larry Draper, a KU professor of molecular biosciences and Faculty Council member, said it's natural to include waivers in campus-wide discussions on tuition.
"The pie's just so big, and the pie's very small right now," he said. "The principle of it is something to be explored, even if it doesn't come to fruition right now."
But Dallas Rakestraw, the student co-chairman of the campus-wide committee studying tuition, said he didn't expect the group to discuss waivers.
"KU's looking for ways to attract quality faculty, and that may help sway some people," he said. "That's something the administration to consider. It's more of a university recruiting tool for faculty. With our committee, it's more of an issue of recruiting students."
Hilding, the dance professor, said the tuition breaks would be a big benefit for him. Fine arts professors are traditionally the lowest paid at the university.
One of Hilding's sons, D.J., is a sophomore at KU, and another, Kristopher, is a third-grader who may attend KU someday.
Hilding said he was convinced the waivers would help the quality of education at KU.
"I think that would be a great incentive for recruitment of young faculty," he said.