Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tuition waivers under attack

Tuition waivers for university employees are again under attack. Currently university employees get a 50% tuition waiver at other Illinois public universities. For some coverage, check out this article in the Chronicle, and an opinion piece in the Springfield Journal-Register (the latter just flagged by the Chancellor in an email to show us President Poshard at work opposing the bill).  The relevant bill, HB 5531, has now passed out of committee. Contrary to some comments in the press, which implied that the bill was aimed at high-paid employees, the bill would immediately eliminate the tuition waiver for any university employee.  This may however be a ploy to prepare for a compromise in which only lower-paid employees would continue to receive the benefit, or perhaps (though this is just my speculation), a compromise eliminating the benefit only for new hires.  The bill is opposed by educational unions (including the IEA), as you might expect. Here's a helpful link from the Northeastern Illinois University Chapter of University Professionals (AFT) outlining ways to lobby elected officials against this bill (though it predates the committee vote).

As a parent of a child who could one day benefit from this provision, I'm naturally rather opposed to this measure. But it has always seemed reasonable enough to me for university employees, who are generally less well compensated than those in the private sector, and who are, or at least ought to be, particularly devoted to education, to receive some such waiver. You make less money than you would in another profession, but you can afford to send your kids to school--that at least used to be part of the basic socio-economic contract for university staff. Eliminating this waiver would thus break a promise made when staff took their jobs here. A "compromise" measure that limited the waiver to low-paid employees would probably remove the waiver from most faculty, I'd wager. And the savings would be rather slight. While exempting new hires would avoid the more obvious issues of fairness, it would hardly help us attract good people to the university, and exacerbate the increasingly two-tier system of employment, in which younger faculty receive worse benefits than older ones simply because they were hired more recently. So, yeah, I hope President Poshard, the IEA, and everyone else on the right side of this issue manage to defeat this short-sighted effort.


  1. Quite right, Dave. This is very disturbing especially as a Democrat has sponsored the Bill probably in retaliation for the threatened removal of political scholarships.

  2. I say we compromise based on the sponsors on definition of financial non-need.

    "The professor who makes $300,000 to $400,000 a year can send his whole family to college for half price,” Arroyo said.

    I think we can all agree to that. Does Arroyo really think that there are many, if any professor making that in the system?

  3. No, Arroyo probably does not believe that. Instead, he is engaging in faculty bashing like Santorum as the election approaches. It is the same disdainful attitude that accused professors who finished the ethics tests too quickly of using "cheat sheets." This attitude is designed to work on the resentment of voters during this dismal period and intended to further Arroyo's political career.

  4. Bruce C. ApplebyMarch 9, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    Arroyo has only 170 people in the SURS system in his district. Bost (one of the two NO votes on the House Executive Committee, the committee out of which this came)has 4,700 SURS people in his district.

  5. Tuiton at public universities in Illinois should be reasonable for everyone in Illinois, who pay ILlinois state taxes. I don't think that some people (but not others) should get special privileges (50% reduction in tuition) for themselves or their dependents just 'cos they are employees of these universities.

  6. In that case, we might combat Arroyo's assertion that faculty earn $300,000 plus per year with pointing out that administrators earn more than faculty. Also, since salaries and wages are lower in SIUC than elsewhere, the 50% tuition waver is essential for those who have chosen to dedicate their talents to the university (athletics directors and administrators excluded since they hinder rather than help education) in terms of fairly low economic returns.

  7. 12:48 well makes the argument against waivers. But waivers are, ultimately, a benefit for university employees. University employees also get health care and pensions, as employees, not citizens. Waivers are of course paid in a rather indirect manner: SIUC employees send kids to other schools in the state system, and vice versa. So SIUC pays for their kids, and we pay for theirs. So it presumably balances out overall.

    SIUC also gives out many other forms of waivers and scholarships, based on financial need, academic merit, or athletic talent. One can argue about each of these forms of support as well. There's one big difference: employees have effectively been promised tuition waivers for their kids. No one is promised an athletic scholarship for their kid (until they arrive).

    Illinois taxpayers get in-state tuition at SIUC--as do citizens of some neighboring states. Note that by offering lower tuition to Missouri and Kentucky residents SIUC isn't doing them a favor: we obviously believe we are better off with more students, even if they pay half tuition. It is likely that we're better off with employees kids as well. Offering employees half-tuition in-state encourages them to stay in-state.

  8. @ Anon 12.48, I would add to Dave's comments about the fact that this is (was?) a *promised* benefit that my family is counting on. I make vastly less than my private sector counter-parts, and these tuition benefits are standard throughout colleges and universities everywhere (although I admit, they are increasingly becoming targets of short-sighted politicians). However, if we want to just argue cold numbers, cutting the benefits is a terrible idea for IL. Despite Arroyo's fantastically overlarge numbers (that I think he just made up), the actual costs of the benefits (~8M / yr I think) is nothing compared to the budget shortfall. *However*, the kinds of faculty (including myself) that would consider leaving (or never come) if this promised benefit is taken away from us -- bring in orders of magnitude more money across IL in the form of grants and contracts to support their programs, universities, and local economies. IL would really shoot itself in the foot if they pass this. In any case, Anon, I wouldn't act like this is some kind of high-minded populism either -- Tony's right that it's just a ploy involving the political scholarships (which I think are 100% tuition, btw).

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  10. Why should some folks get freebies for themselves and their kids? Instead let them have more need and/or merit based tuition scholarships that everyone in the state and their kids can try for. The faculty senate resolution was also rather strange--"We support this resolution 'cos we have kids who will soon be needing to go to college". Sounds quite selfish to me. Senators everywhere thinking only about their own sweet selves! It does not also make sense that some of the highest paid employees in the university (many administrators and a few faculty) are also entitled to a 50% tuition cut.

  11. @ Anon. 8:39 pm:

    See my post above. Also, you might as well ask: "Why should people get retirement benefits?" or, "Why do people who work for a company get discounts on the product or service provided by that company?"

    1. beezer: some people go to very extreme. They look for "absolute thing" but unfortunately the reality doesn't go this way. There is no absolute fair in our society.


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