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December 5, 2005

Staff renew push for fee discounts for employees' children, spouses, partners

By Dave Jones
UC Davis Dateline

UC staff leaders are reviving the long-discussed proposal to offer educational fee discounts to employees' spouses, domestic partners and children, and they say it could be on the Board of Regents' agenda as early as January.

"The timing is right to bring it back," said Rosemary Anderson, chair of the Council of University of California Staff Assemblies, or CUCSA. Anderson is executive assistant to associate vice chancellor of Colleges and University Housing Services Jean Marie Scott at UCSC.

Anderson said CUCSA is working with allies on the Board of Regents to put the fee discount proposal back on the table. Also, UCSF work-life professional David Bell, who served as CUCSA chair in 2004 and is now one of two staff advisers to Regents' committees, said he is "strategizing" with the UC Office of the President on the proposal.

Anderson, Bell and other staff and faculty leaders continue to maintain that the discounts would aid in employee recruitment and retention.

And, Anderson said, "This would go a long way in boosting morale. What a great gesture for our dependents to attend the university that we all serve."

She said staff is "ideally looking at a full waiver," though partial discounts also have been discussed. A faculty proposal in 2004 called for phased-in discounts: 50 percent for three years and 100 percent after that.

A full waiver for four years of undergraduate study, two semesters or three quarters a year, would be worth about $21,600, based on 2005-06 fees. Regular-status UC employees already get a two-thirds discount on registration and educational fees for regular-session courses of up to nine units or three courses per quarter or semester, whichever provides the greater benefit.

The Academic Council put forth recommendations in 2000, 2002 and 2004 for fee discounts for dependents. "And our position really hasn't changed," UCLA professor Cliff Brunk, council chair, said this week.

UC President Robert Dynes rejected the Academic Council's 2004 proposal to extend fee discounts to dependents, citing "four years of state budget cuts" and higher priorities such as faculty salaries and maintaining educational program quality.

Anderson commented that the Board of Regents put off the proposal "because of the perceived associated cost."

Indeed, in a 2002 letter to the Academic Council, then-President Richard Atkinson estimated an annual cost of $5.6 million to waive all educational fees for employees' dependents.

Anderson said, "That's really a relatively small amount of money in terms of gain," while Brunk noted, "It does have a real expense associated with it. It's just a question of where you want to put your money now."

Brad Hayward, executive director of strategic communications for the UC Office of the President, said: "There is a long list of competing priorities for funding as our budget situation slowly begins to recover, and this proposal would need to be factored into that conversation."

Hayward said the UC will "certainly take a close look at what CUCSA proposes. We know there historically has been wide employee interest in such a benefit, though it is also a benefit that likely would be used by relatively few employees at any one time."

In calculating its $5.6 million cost estimate in 2002, the UC administration looked at October 2000 enrollment and employment data and identified 2,044 students as dependents of 1,905 employees. That number of employees accounted for about 1.3 percent of the work force of 150,640 full- and part-time workers in April 2000.

At the time, Atkinson acknowledged that more dependents might enroll if fee discounts were available, "but there is no accurate way to predict the impact (that) approval of the benefit would have on these figures."

The Academic Council's 2004 resolution sought 100 percent fee waivers for qualified dependents of all faculty and other eligible employees, described as having membership in the UC Retirement Program and five years of service.

Anderson said that in the San Francisco Bay Area alone, she knows of staff members who left for Stanford, Santa Clara and St. Mary's to get free tuition for dependents.

Those universities are private. Fee discounts for employee dependents are not as prevalent among public institutions. In the California State University system, however, employees can take two courses or six units per term without paying educational fees, and any employee can transfer this benefit to a spouse or child.

The University of Maryland is among the public institutions that offer tuition discounts to employee dependents. Those with in-state residency pay zero tuition, a savings of $6,566 for 2005-06. However, they are required to pay $1,255 in mandatory fees.

Dave Rieger, assistant director for benefits at UM at College Park, said the administration "grumbles" now and then about doing away with the fee waivers, "but it kind of gets pooh-poohed."

Maryland's tuition remission program dates back at least three decades. He said changes to the policy since 1990 include: Participants cannot previously have obtained an undergraduate degree; they cannot get a waiver on graduate studies; and the fee waiver is available only after the employee has been on staff for two years.

"If this were to go away," Rieger said, "we'd have a hard time getting decent people that we'd want to stay."


Related link:

Staff advisers' role on Regents 'historic,' says head of statewide staff group (Currents Online article).

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