University Senate pushes for more tuition assistance benefits for faculty, staff and their families

The KU faculty, staff and student governance meetings I check out on occasion can venture into some esoteric territory. (Thursday I witnessed a debate that featured several folks weighing in on whether a proposed policy could be described as “Byzantine.”) But they can also be quite educational.

For instance, Thursday at a University Senate meeting I learned that KU does not provide as much tuition assistance for its faculty or staff or, especially, their spouses or dependents as some other universities around the state and the nation, at least according to a report from a task force that had looked into the subject. (That’s the other thing about these governance groups: There are a lot of task forces. Task forces and committees, of the standing and non-standing varieties.)

The group was led by Donna Ginther, a professor of economics, and it reported that KU’s policies on tuition support for faculty, staff and their families lagged behind other Board of Regents institutions and a selection of seven “peer” universities from around the country, for the most part.

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, which theoretically allows for up to 15 credits per year if you factor in the summer term. However, that policy doesn’t apply to anyone who has a doctoral degree, which obviously counts out a lot of faculty. And it does not stretch to spouses, children or dependents. KU is the only Regents university that doesn’t offer assistance to dependents, and one of only two (along with Washburn) not to offer it for spouses.

Kansas State University, for example, allows for a few free credit hours for spouses or children of faculty or staff each semester, with a few qualifiers. K-State reported to the group that it provides just shy of $1 million worth of tuition assistance each year, on average. KU’s estimated cost is around $275,000 per year.

There is one big caveat: The children and dependents of KU employees and faculty 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. That covers about three credit hours, at the tuition rate paid by incoming freshmen for 2012-13. According to the report, that scholarship paid a bit more than $150,000 in tuition for 185 students this academic year.

Anyway, as you might expect, the faculty, student and staff representatives who put this report together recommended that KU expand its assistance. They suggested expanding it to all faculty and staff with at least six months’ service and their dependents, spouses or domestic partners, and also providing more credit hours’ worth. The group reported it was tough to guess exactly what that might cost, maybe somewhere between $400,000 and $1 million. It suggested KU pay for that with savings from its Changing for Excellence efficiency campaign.

Ginther argued in Thursday’s meeting that the expanded assistance might help KU, too, perhaps making it more attractive to potential faculty. And, she said, the children of faculty and staff might likely be pretty good students that KU would like to recruit.

University Senate president Chris Crandall said he guessed that the university administration would be unlikely to make that change right at the moment, as budget matters are uncertain. But the faculty, staff and students at the meeting Thursday voted unanimously to send the recommendation and the accompanying report to Provost Jeff Vitter.

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