Maintenance workers’ free tuition perk scrubbed

Maintenance1

By: Yuri Smishkewych | Published on Feb. 10, 2016

With the stroke of a pen nearly a year ago, 54 maintenance workers’ positions were outsourced to a private firm.

And, for those rehired by that firm, not only came the loss of income, but also the loss of a time-honored benefit for full-time employees in academia across the country – free tuition.

But not all full-time employees need apply—subcontracted employees, like the maintenance staff now working for GCA Services, have lost the perk.

“My son was never eligible for it because I didn’t work for Kean. I worked here, but as an outside contractor,” said Bernice, a custodian who works at the Upperclassman Residence Hall and has been with GCA for the past six years, “so we didn’t get those benefits anyway.”

The benefit—often called “tuition remission” by many schools—is a well- known perquisite that either waives, or deducts, the tuition costs of full-time employees and their dependents, who are enrolled in a degree program at the college or university where they work.

READ MORE: Kean staffer fears outsourcing

According to the Employee Handbook here at Kean, there are two programs available to full- time employees depending on their classification: the “Tuition Waiver Program” and the “Tuition Reimbursement Program.” Where in the latter, “reimbursement [is given] for courses taken at another accredited institution of higher education.”

Among the benefits outlined in GCA Services’ Employee Handbook there is no mention of a tuition reimbursement program.

Tuition benefits face scrutiny by some, and praise by others.

In a U.S. News & World Report article on tuition benefits, the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR), indicates that of the 340 universities public and private—surveyed nationwide, 98 percent offer tuition benefits for full-time employees.

“But as schools struggle with tighter budgets,” Menachem Wecker states in the report, “it might be tuition benefits hunting season.”

The issue seems to draw a line in the sands of fiscal ideology: Some, like editor at large Jeffery Selingo at the Chronicle of Higher Education, are calling for an end to the perk.

“The history of the tuition benefit harks back to a time when colleges needed to offer such perks to attract candidates to lowly paid campus jobs,” says Selingo. “But the academic job market today is flooded with too many applicants for too few jobs.”

And, inversely, as Matt Reid of Inside Higher Education explains, “a national market with scarce opportunities for entry—and even scarcer opportunities for advancement within the role once you’re in—wreaks havoc on family life. Tuition remission for dependents may be a bit of a holdover from an earlier time…but it’s a welcome holdover.”

Chiemela Igbokwe contributed to this story. Illustration by: Y.S.

Yuri Smishkewych may be reached at ysmishke@kean.edu.

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