Tuition waiver elimination could threaten enrollment, employee recruitment

SIUC formally joined the University of Illinois and Northern Illinois University Tuesday in opposition to state legislation that would eliminate employee tuition waivers.

House Bill 5531 proposes that the tuition waivers available to state university employees and their children, upon reaching seven years of employment, be eliminated because of the struggling state budget.

Rep. Luis Arroyo, who proposed the bill, estimated the state would save $387 million, according to the Illinois Education Association website.

According to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, however, the figure would be around $8 million.

SIUC President Glenn Poshard said 60 percent of the 247 students attending SIU on tuition waiver are children of university employees with salaries between $35,000 and $40,000.

He said after the remaining tuition, fees, and room and board are factored in, the employee waiver is about an 18 percent discount on the true cost of attending.

“The tuition waiver is important for many of our staff to put their children through college,” Poshard said.

Lonzie Midden, a senior from Carbondale studying communication disorders and sciences, has received the tuition waiver for her four years at SIUC.

“I am dependent on my parents and also have a sister going through college,” she said. “Even though the discount ends up being much less than 50 percent, every little bit helps.”

Midden said the elimination of the waivers might hurt enrollment, but the quality of the staff may suffer more.

Midden’s mother, Karen Midden, who is a professor of plant, soil and agricultural systems at the university, said although they still pay all the fees, the waivers have been of great assistance.

She said providing the support of tuition waivers is helpful, because not many state employees are getting rich.

“It will be a hit in the face, given all of the other cuts and challenges we are all facing, if the waivers are eliminated,” Karen Midden said.

Revoking the incentive, while hurting enrollment, may also eliminate a reason to choose SIUC as a student or an employee, said Buck Hales, professor and chairperson of physiology for the School of Medicine.

Hales said being able to offer a tuition discount to employees encourages professional development, which benefits the employees as well as himself as an employer.

The Faculty Senate’s resolution, which passed Tuesday and opposes the House bill, states the tuition waivers are a recruiting and retention tool for public universities.

Poshard said the competition for quality faculty and staff is intensive, especially because it’s difficult for SIUC to compete with other universities because of budget reductions from the state.

Since 2002, the state has cut funding to university from $247 million to $217 million, Poshard said.

He said with the uncertainty of pension benefits and the state’s consistent reduction of university funding, having the ability to offer a tuition discount helps the university to offset some concerns.

“The employees that I know value the waivers as a really important benefit,” Hales said.

Hales said the waivers help to compensate for deficiencies that might exist in terms of benefits and are a wonderful incentive and advantage to SIUC in terms of retaining quality employees.

“Any benefit we can have like this certainly helps us recruit the best people,” Poshard said.

Poshard said one reason he has been so active against the bill is because the waivers are an important incentive for SIUC to recruit and retain better faculty and staff.

In Tuesday’s Faculty Senate meeting, the group passed a resolution to insist state legislators do not pass the bill.

One argument raised by the resolution is the waivers may benefit the state by attracting more students to universities within the state.

“Overall, the cost savings would not outweigh the damage revoking the waivers would cause in terms of enrollment and employee morale,” Hales said.

 

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tblanchette

About Tiffany Blanchette

Senior at SIUC majoring in photojournalism and zoology. Can be easily reached at tblanchette@dailyegyptian.com or 618-536-3311 ext. 254.

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