March 31, 2015

Legislation Threatens to Cut Child-of-Employee Tuition Waivers

Students who are children of employees may eventually become
ineligible for tuition waivers if a bill in the Illinois House passes.
By Susan S. Stevens

UNIVERSITY EMPLOYEES are nervous about a proposal before the Illinois General Assembly that, if passed, would cost them thousands more dollars to send their offspring through college by ending tuition waivers for their children.

CURRENT LAW allows a 50 percent tuition waiver for children of State public University employees who have held their jobs for at least seven years. The University of Illinois wants to keep it that way, but a State lawmaker wants to stop it.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE Jack D. Franks, a Democrat who lives in Marengo, IL, introduced legislation, HB 403, which would rescind the tuition break. It is the second proposal of this kind before the Legislature in recent years. The tuition waiver came before Franks’ own House State Government Administration Committee, which began hearing testimony March 4. The bill recently picked up a co-sponsor, Rep. Luis Arroyo, a Chicago Northwest Side Democrat.

AN AMENDED version of the bill passed the committee by a 9-4 margin. The original bill, if passed by both houses of the Illinois General Assembly and signed by the Governor, would have cut out the tuition waivers as soon as possible. The amended version would continue the tuition waivers for five years and then end the program.

“IF THIS bill were to become law, the approximately 2,000 students who currently rely on this waiver to attend college will be put in jeopardy of not being able to complete their education,” the University said in a statement. The number of employees at the University of Illinois at Chicago who would be affected is uncertain. One potential user of the waivers is aghast.

KIMBERLY HUANG, Assistant Director of Grants and Contracts in the Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy Department, has been at UIC for more than 13 years. Huang will have three children in college within the next decade.  She said, “If the tuition waiver is repealed, I would rather send my kids to other universities that offer more generous financial assistance instead of considering Illinois state schools. But if the tuition waiver remains, having this option will definitely make me think twice as it can save me tens of thousands of dollars for each child. That's a significant benefit for me."

“IT IS not fair for legislators to take the tuition waiver away because they can afford to send their kids to private, expensive universities,” Huang added. “I think the State could potentially lose a lot of excellent students too.”

“WHILE ILLINOIS provides a 50 percent waiver,” the University statement said, “it is not uncommon in other states to see a 100 percent waiver provided to the children of university and college staff.”

JULIE KONG’S two daughters benefitted from the waivers. “The waivers were definitely a tremendous financial help in our family as both were in College almost at the same time,” said Kong, who is the Director of Research Services in the School of Public Health Administration said. In addition, the waivers may be particularly helpful to parents who are working at UIC with first-generation college students.

FRANKS DID not respond to APAC News requests for an interview. However, the News-Gazette newspaper in Champaign, IL, quoted Franks saying the bill was in line with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s effort to cut State spending. "This year is a year we're going to have to make a lot of hard choices," Franks said.
ALTHOUGH HIS original bill called for repealing the waivers this year, Franks told the publication he is willing to give students who started last fall a chance to complete their undergraduate degrees. "It's not fair to those who were counting on that," he said.
FRANKS TOLD the publication that 2,156 of the waivers were awarded in Illinois last year to the children of employees, costing nearly $10 million.
NOT TRUE, said Linda L. Brookhart, executive director of the State Universities Annuitants Association. “The 50 percent tuition waiver is budget neutral to the State. Eliminating the waiver would in no way represent any savings to the State or its taxpayers.”
HB 403 would be a further reduction in pay for State employees who in the past had to take furlough days without pay and who earn less than they might in the private sector or even in other government jobs, Brookhart said.

“CIVIL SERVICE employees within the State Universities Civil Service System earn far less than Civil Service employees hired by the State of Illinois Central Management Services,” Brookhart said. “Some entry level classifications are paid 50-60 percent less than our colleagues at the State of Illinois. The tuition benefit was added to offset the salary disparity between University and State employees. The tuition benefit is part of the overall compensation package.”

SHE URGED University employees to contact legislators to express their opposition to the waiver repeal.

A FACEBOOK page provides the latest information on the issue:!/saveourwaivers

COLLEEN PIERSEN, Assistant Head for Administration in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy and Chair of APAC, has been keeping Academic Professionals updated on legislative updates related to HB403.  "Based on the feedback that I've received, the topic clearly resonates with all employees, not just APs. It's even captured national attention as a headline story in The Chronicle of Higher Education.”

THE CHRONICLE story may be accessed at.

FRANKS’ BILL does not address other types of waivers, such as those offered to University faculty, staff, and other employees themselves, students with financial hardships, or students with academic talent or special status such as athletes and students from other countries.

MORE DETAIL on the current waivers is available on the website of the Academic Professional Task Force Implementation Team:

UIC EMPLOYEES may contact State legislators to comment on HB 403—
but not on University time or on a University phone. See to find your legislators.

IT IS not known when or if the bill will come up for a vote in the full Illinois House.

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