Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

KU faculty, staff push for improved tuition benefits for themselves and their families

May 13, 2013


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KU tuition assistance report ( .PDF )

Rick Levy is a distinguished professor of law at Kansas University. But when his son, who graduated from KU in 2011, enrolled in courses at the school, he paid the same tuition rate as his classmates.

He did receive a $1,000 annual scholarship available only for the dependents of KU faculty or staff, but he lost it a few years later when there was not enough funding available for all the students who qualified.

Contrast that with a friend of Levy’s, who is a faculty member at a private university elsewhere in the country. Levy's friend sent five children to costly, high-ranked schools for college — all on his employer’s dime.

Granted, Levy says, it’s probably not reasonable to expect KU to offer the same benefits as deep-pocketed private universities. But even among public universities, KU trails others in the state and some around the nation when it comes to tuition assistance benefits for faculty, staff and their families.

That was the conclusion of a report released last month by a small group that included faculty, staff and student representatives. The report recommended that KU expand tuition benefits to match its neighbors and peers.

Such a move, Levy said, would fit nicely with the university’s often-stated desire to recruit and keep top-flight faculty members.

“It provides a reason for people to come here and stay here — or not go elsewhere where they might get better benefits,” Levy said.

Donna Ginther, a professor of economics and director of the Center for Science Technology and Economic Policy at Kansas University.

Donna Ginther, a professor of economics and director of the Center for Science Technology and Economic Policy at Kansas University.

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Donna Ginther, a KU professor of economics who studies labor markets in academia, led the task force that produced last month’s report, which was about a year and a half in the making.

KU allows faculty and staff who work at least half-time to apply to take one free course each semester, for up to five credit hours. The policy allows for a maximum of 15 credits per year at KU or, in some cases, at certain other institutions, such as community colleges. However, that policy doesn't apply to anyone who has a doctoral degree. And it does not extend to spouses, children or dependents of faculty and staff,

KU is the only Kansas Board of Regents university that doesn't offer assistance to dependents, and one of only two (along with Washburn) not to offer it for spouses, the report found. The group also compared KU with a sampling of other public research universities around the country, and found that KU’s benefits were on the low end among that group, as well.

Children and dependents of KU employees and faculty can get help in another way, however: They are eligible for a merit scholarship from Coca-Cola, as part of the company's beverage deal with KU, for up to $1,000 per year.

But that benefit has been unchanged since 1998. Since then, average yearly tuition and fee costs for KU undergraduates have increased nearly fourfold.

“When it was started in 1998, I’m sure it provided a good subsidy,” Ginther said, “but it never increased in value.”

At the rate for first-time KU freshmen in 2012-13, $1,000 will pay for about 3.4 credit hours — roughly one-quarter the typical full-time load of 15 credits.

Ginther’s group recommends that KU expand its assistance policy to include spouses, domestic partners, children and dependents of staff and faculty, and increase the number of free credit hours offered to seven per semester — roughly half the typical full-time credit-load. It also would do away with a stipulation that faculty or staff who have doctoral degrees are ineligible. That would make KU’s benefits roughly the same as those at Kansas State University.

“I think that would be a step in the right direction,” Ginther said. She argues that the move would help KU attract and keep good faculty, while also helping to recruit some bright students. Both of those are stated goals in the university’s “Bold Aspirations” strategic plan.

The question, of course, is what the cost would be, at a time when KU officials are waiting to see where the state Legislature lands on funding for 2013-14. Diane Goddard, KU’s vice provost for administration and finance, said KU must actually pay the tuition for staffers approved for the assistance benefit, using a pool of money set aside for that purpose. Individual departments depend on tuition revenue for their budgets.

And, she said, it’s difficult to estimate with any precision how many people might take advantage of expanded benefits.

KU’s University Senate voted unanimously to send the study group’s recommendation to Provost Jeff Vitter last week, but the administration has not yet been able to study possible costs yet.

As a “wild guess,” Goddard said the expansion might cost the university an extra $1 to $2 million a year. Currently KU spends about $275,000 per year on the tuition benefit, Ginther’s report said; Kansas State spends just less than $1 million on its program.

Goddard said she and other administrators would study the recommendation and also consider the possible benefits. She said, however, that all matters budget-related are a bit uncertain for now because of the uncertainty over state funding.

“I can’t predict at this point how this is going to turn out,” Goddard said, “but I can say the task force has done a really good job.”


weiser 5 years ago

This way they can learn early to have others pay their way. They can follow in their parent's footprints and depend on taxpayers for a whole life of free stuff, with minimal work.

tomatogrower 5 years ago

Of course, those private university professors whose kids get a free ride are ok, right?

oakfarm 5 years ago

The five kids free anecdote is grossly misleading. Most private schools do not have "deep pockets" (one third are living on the financial edge; few have any significant endowments) and the tuition benefit for most private schools is much more restrictive than the anecdote would suggest, if it exists at all. Some private schools are reducing or eliminating this benefit. A smarter way would be to increase KU merit scholarship funding and expect that children of university employees would be deserving based on merit, not nepotism.

Bob Reinsch 5 years ago

Faculty and staff children have a shot at one scholarship? I wonder how many scholarships they are explicitly denied access to due to the need to avoid the appearance of favoritism or nepotism.

question4u 5 years ago

It sees unlikely that very many professors would want their children to attend KU if they had other options. Thanks to the attitudes of people like the first few posters above, Kansas does not have a university that is even in the top 100. Both KU and K-State dropped in the last national rankings. You can attend a higher ranked university just by crossing the state line to Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, or Oklahoma. The disparity will get even bigger if the Legislature cuts more funding this year.

Tuition benefits seem like a minor point. Professors obviously believe that education is important, so it's hard to imagine them wanting their kids to stay in Kansas. This isn't a state for educated people.

Kansas is simply not a state for quality higher education.

Shardwurm 5 years ago

Education is important. Unfortunately, FORMAL education is a gigantic rip-off. Maybe if KU didn't have high school graduates teaching math classes and charging full tuition for it they may get a little more respect both nationally and from their customers. Oh wait...I forgot - Univer$ities don't have customers. They have slaves.

thinkinganalytically 5 years ago

Actually a fair number of KU faculty have children attending the University. Here is a KU press release about one: Rodolfo Matias Torres (

I happen to know that this KU undergraduate turned down Caltech.

George Lippencott 5 years ago

IMHO the faculty and staff at KU should be afforded all the financial opportunities available to the average Kansan for whom they work.

Bob Reinsch 5 years ago

If another Kansas Board of Regents school is offering better benefits than KU, then that either those benefits should be mirrored at KU, or the other school should have the benefit removed. There should be consistency across the board. Regarding the idea that faculty shouldn't want to send their kids to Kansas, I say hogwash. Professors know more about the quality of individual programs than people on the outside looking in. Kansas has a number of programs that are nationally ranked, and many others that are on the rise.

streetman 5 years ago

Well I'm not afraid to ask the obvious (and probably politically incorrect questions): why should KU's, or for that matter any state-supported school's) faculty receive this tax-payer supported perk? I had to manage my education funding, and that of my kids -- why should they get it at my expense?

mom_of_three 5 years ago

any classes taken by KU staff through tuition assistance counts as income. So the "student" is paying taxes.

mom_of_three 5 years ago

what freebies do you think they get, and what does it cost you?

elliottaw 5 years ago

Its not 1960 any more, you would have to make about $30,000 so the student would have to have a full time job making $14 hours a week and work that job year round just to break even, not to be able to eat they would have to get a second job.

tomatogrower 5 years ago

Just try finding a 12,000 house nowadays. Just try finding a house of equivalent value for the present day wages, not to mention utilities, gas, etc. I guess you haven't been awake, but people are paying a higher percent of their incomes for the basics than when I was young.

Lisa Medsker 5 years ago

Even so when I was young! I only had 12,000 in student loans with my Bachelor's, paid 450 per month in rent on a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home with a fenced yard, and my car payment was 90$ per month, and gas was around two dollars per gallon at its highest. I had a job that paid 11$ per hour, and that was LIVING, back then! (Early 90s.) Never had to choose which bill to "skip" that month, didn't have to worry about how I was going to buy groceries.
The job I was offered upon graduating paid 13.45 per hour, and I didn't have to panic about making ends meet. That same job, today, or rather its equivalent, since most social programs have been slashed, pays around 10 per hour, and still requires a degree. Costs of living have increased exponentially, and although I make a little more than I did back then, my standard of living has taken a nosedive. (That same house now rents for 1350.) My parents were "paid for" by their parents, but they certainly couldn't have afforded to put me through, and I know, the way things are structured right now, my own are going to need loans, scholarships, grants, or the military.
Why don't some people understand that? How are they completely unable to see that wages have not kept up with living costs, and we have to do a whole lot more with considerably less?

Lisa Medsker 5 years ago

Ahh... That whole, "Conveniently Cognizant" thing!

KU_cynic 5 years ago

Rick Levy made $188K last year at KU. Donna Ginther $171K. Not exactly poster-profs for the need for subsidized tuition for dependents of KU employees.

It would have been much better politically if the task force had been savvy enough to identify some hard-working staff members or lesser-paid humanities professors to serve as examples of KU employees whose kids could benefit from a tuition break. But no, they let Rick Levy stand up and tell his story . . . never a shortage of words there.

Glenn_Bouganville 5 years ago

They are fighting for everyone not just themselves. Think about every admin assistant who could get their degree or put their kids through college.

yourworstnightmare 5 years ago

Tuition assistance is a nice benefit for faculty, but in these times of decreasing budgets and higher tuition, it makes little sense for some of the highest-paid state employees to receive these benefits.

There is a possibility that this will drive away quality faculty, but I think the possibility is remote, as most faculty want to send their children to better schools in other states and countries for a well-rounded experience.

KU should focus on using its resources and scholarships to recruit the best students from the state, country and world, regardless of faculty status of their parents.

elliottaw 5 years ago

ummm highest paid state employees???? The average KU professor makes about $70k, not a whole lot for people who have earned a PhD and can have debt over $100k because of this. Don't let the salaries of a few (Drs & Lawyers) lead you to believe that all are paid like kings.

Nikonman 5 years ago

The last I heard, the average KU faculty salary was about $110,000 per year. And that was several years ago. Does the 70K figure include the TAs to bring the average down? As far as the staff employees are concerned, they may be KU classified employees, but they are on the same retirement system as other state employees who get no tuition assistance. Bottom line, KU Faculty members are the highest paid public employees in the state and can well afford to educate their children. I'd like to see some actual proof of what KU Faculty and staff make. By law that information is open to the public.

elliottaw 5 years ago

No it does not include TA, the average however is inflated because of the pay from law and medical, you will not find a Professor making that in social work, humanities, English, education, ect. I know professors that have been at KU 20+ years that are not making 100k.

Glenn_Bouganville 5 years ago

Some of you people just do not get it. It's not all about Levy or Ginther this benefit helps the facility maintenance worker who makes 35k a year or any other staff person on campus. This benefit is common throughout higher education. For example, most Ohio and PA state schools allow dependents of their faculty and staff get 100% tuition benefits on undergraduate degrees and tax at 40% graduate tuition. This is huge for administrative assistants and lower level employees. Do people making six figures take advantage, sure but the vast majority of university employees are not making six figures. Think about the big picture and do not let the fact that you paid for your own education get in the way of the betterment of the community. This benefit is a huge recruiting tool and also helps in retention.

elliottaw 5 years ago

Pretty sure the Congo has higher education standards than Kansas

George Lippencott 5 years ago

Why should they be different from all the other hard working low paid citizens of this state. The average income in Kansas is round $50K. The average income at KU (pick a number) is between $70 and $100+K.

Kansas and others have programs to help the children of low income families. If the faculty/staff member fits the definition then by all means extend support. If not, why should they receive a perk not available to the general public.

I keep hearing about attracting good people. Apparently we can pay substantial salaries to do do so. I am unaware that we are having problem attracting staff or TAs - those most likely to need tuition assistance and most likely to qualified for what is available to other lower income citizens.

Good lord people we can not pay to help our disabled yet we should advance a perk to people making more then twice the average income in Kansas.

elliottaw 5 years ago

Then you need to take a better look at the school, there is a reason they are falling in the ratings and have a very poor retention compared to comparable schools. It is pretty much a farm league for the big schools now, people come get experience then are taking jobs are better colleges.

George Lippencott 5 years ago

You are right to a point. That said because of challenges in a few of our schools should we extend a new expensive and inequitable perk to all? Just pay the high performers more.

Of course burried in all this is how much Kansas (not a wealthy state) can pay to compete with private universities and university in far wealthier states. We just may have to be selective. After all the primary purpose of KU is to provide advanced educational opportunities to our citizens.

Research should pay for itself. If your good you will bring in plenty of money and be well rewarded.

elliottaw 5 years ago

every other regents school does it, except KU. The state wants to put caps on professors salaries, the state has schools that it does not want to fund at a adequate level, the school is going to have to do something drastic to make people want to stay here and/or move here.

George Lippencott 5 years ago

Or they can leave. The salaries at other regent schools are on average noticeably lower than KU.

We have a properly elected state government that is questioning the costs of higher education in the state. If they actually cut money to KU and limit tuition increases just how many will actually leave? Will that really limit educational opportunity or improve it for those who have to pay for it??

In short do I need a "world class" professor or a good journeyman professor to educate an undergraduate.. Do I really need world level competitive education at the advanced level in all my schools?

We are asking our public employees at the federal level to endure furloughs. Why is KU better?

George Lippencott 5 years ago

A point I forgot. The rich faculty members arguing here are those where extending a salary increase would lead to about half of it going for taxes. A scholarship to a dependent could be manipulated to be that dependent's income and taxable to him/her. Since few people in that age range make much money it is essentially untaxed at the federal level and only taxed a bit in Kansas.

This all sound like greed to me.

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