Oregon News

Tuition discount for staff families costs UO $2.6M

Diane Dietz / The Register-Guard (Eugene ) /

A steep discount on tuition that the state offers University of Oregon employees and their offspring is proving increasingly valuable as the UO keeps raising the price of tuition.

The employee benefit allows UO employees and family members to get 70 percent off the cost of tuition for up to 12 credits per semester. They pay $636 for tuition in fall term, compared with $2,013 in tuition for in-state students who are paying full freight.

Employees can use the benefit to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Or they can use the benefit for their children, to save them from the burdens of student loans. “It’s a big motivation for hanging onto the job,” said Deanna Berglund, a UO grants and contracts coordinator.

The tuition waiver program for employees, spouses and dependents is a statewide program of the Oregon University System. Last year, 1,558 employees and family members in the seven-university system used the waiver, at a cost to the state of about $6.7 million in unpaid tuition.

At the UO, 456 people used the employee benefit last year at the cost of about $2.6 million to the university.

Only one family member per term can use the tuition waiver, and it’s good for only 12 credits. Employees need permission from their departments each term to enroll. The program doesn’t apply to the law school.

Employees and their children are subject to the same percent tuition increase each year as ordinary students, and the increases have been substantial.

From 2001 to fall 2012, the UO increased tuition and fees 129 percent, landing at $9,309 a year, according to OUS figures.

Employees using the tuition-reduction benefit don’t pay the fees, but if their children use the benefit, they do pay the fees. So, the annual cost would be $1,908 for UO employees and $3,207 annually for their children.

Universities see the tuition breaks as an important faculty recruiting tool, especially the universities that are strapped for cash, said Sam Dunietz, research assistant at the American Association of University Professors.

“It has a twofold purpose: One is to attract new faculty and new talent. Since the cost of education can be quite high, offering a free ride to the dependents of faculty members is considered a very good benefit. The other aspect has to do with the philosophy of education. It goes with the mission of the institution to help its faculty that do research and teach — but also help the next generation,” he said.

For some universities, though, it’s getting expensive.

This year, the Illinois Legislature considered a bill to eliminate the 50 percent tuition reduction given to employees’ children at the state’s public universities, which was costing taxpayers $8 million a year, according to news reports. But Illinois universities argued that losing the perk would hurt their recruiting. The bill didn’t pass.

In Oregon, the tuition remission applies to employees who work half time or more — whether they are faculty or staff — and it’s a boon to lower-wage workers.

The cost of discounts

Tuition Break

University of Oregon employees and their family members use the state’s tuition remission benefit, which reduces their tuition to 30 percent of the price. Here’s the breakdown of use within families:

Employees themselves: 121 used (27 percent of total)

Spouses: 44 (10 percent)

Partners: 16 (4 percent)

Children: 275 (60 percent)

Revenue foregone

Statewide, employees of the state’s seven universities and their families took classes for 30 percent of the cost. Here’s about how much revenue the universities didn’t collect because of the program:

2009: $6.1 million from 1,634 students

2010: $6.1 million from 1,584 students

2011: $6.7 million from 1,558 students

Source: Oregon University System

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