Employees at Illinois Public Colleges Could Lose Tuition Perk

  • March 07, 2012
  • By Ben Wieder
When his 16-year-old daughter Shelby chooses a college next year, long-time Northern Illinois University employee Andy Small hopes that he can still cash in on a benefit shared by thousands of other university employees in Illinois.

Employees who have served more than seven years now are eligible for a 50-percent discount on in-state tuition for their children. But a bill introduced in the House by Democrat Luis Arroyo could change that.

For Small, a lab manager in the department of chemistry and biochemistry, the prospect of losing out on the benefit at this point in his career is particularly frustrating. "You put 24 years in a place and they change the rules of the game right when you're about to use them," he says. "I tell you, that's truly disappointing."

Arroyo said in a committee hearing last week that he thinks it's unfair that university employees get the perk, and that eliminating it could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars, according to The (Springfield) State Journal-Register .

In fact, the value of the 2,234 tuition waivers granted in fiscal year 2011 was $8.16 million, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The state's public universities came out against the bill. Thomas Hardy, a spokesman for the University of Illinois system, told Stateline that it would make the universities less competitive employers. "This kind of a benefit is essential when it comes to being able to recruit and retain the kind of employees we need," he said.

A wide-range of employees, not just professors and top administrators, took advantage of the benefits, Hardy said, contrary to what some legislators who support the bill have claimed.

John Curtis, director of research and public policy at the American Association of University Professors, says that tuition benefits are pretty common for university employees. According to the most recent faculty compensation study conducted by the AAUP, more than half of universities offered tuition benefits of some kind. There was a split between public and private universities, though, with about 80 percent of private universities in the survey offering the benefit, compared with only a third of public universities.

Curtis says he thinks most universities see the benefit as a relatively inexpensive perk they can offer faculty and staff. "It's not requiring a whole new array of services," he says. "Even at a large university, we're talking about a couple hundred students, at most."

Numerous faculty members told him, he said, the benefit was one reason for staying at a particular institution.

In Illinois, the measure has been linked in debate by some legislators with another tuition perk that allowed legislators to give scholarships to students in their districts. That scholarship has been abused widely, and Governor Pat Quinn attempted to eliminate it last fall in a move that was blocked by House Speaker Michael Madigan.

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