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Tuition waiver targeted in bill

March 5, 2015

tuition[1]Illinois lawmaker Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, is proposing that the state do away with tuition breaks for children of employees at public universities.

HB 403 would repeal the provisions that permit the children of employees of a state university who have been employed by any one or by more than one State university for an aggregate period of at least seven years to receive a 50 percent tuition waiver.

According to an Associated Press report, Franks, who chairs the State Government Administration Committee, said state universities issued 2,156 tuition waivers last year at a cost of nearly $10 million.

That same report indicated Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Northlake, said she’s worried cutting the waivers could drive away “valuable employees.”

“It might not be your physics professor,” Willis said to the committee. “It might be the janitor who chose to work at an institution for years, knowing that this is the only way he’s going to be able to afford to have his children go to school.”

Employees become eligible for the tuition waivers after working seven academic years at one or more of Illinois’ senior public universities, including Northern Illinois University.

State Universities Annuitants Association Executive Director Linda Brookhart said through an action alert that continuing the waivers would help keep Illinois students in the state. The SUAA action alert called for employees to contact members of the State Government Administration Committee and made the following points:

  • In the past there have been furlough days – leave without pay – according to Governor Rauner it looks as if this could happen again. Therefore this becomes a further reduction in pay.
  • Just as in the private sector, many employees need financial assistance for their children to obtain a four-year degree. Not everyone can receive scholarships to do so nor afford to go in debt through student loans.
  • Salary increases are not guaranteed.
  • 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.
  • 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. Some entry level classifications are paid 50-60 percent less than 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. Loss of the 50% tuition waiver would require salaries of University employees to be increased to rates equal to the State of Illinois.
  • Universities in less populated areas of the State already struggle to hire well qualified candidates–particularly in areas requiring advanced technology or health care licenses/certificates. University employees include nurses and other professional health care workers which are in high demand. With salaries already quite low, the loss of the tuition benefit as a recruitment tool will make hiring well qualified employees much more difficult.
  • The 50 percent tuition waiver assists universities struggling with low enrollment. While the waiver reduces the tuition by half, the enrolled student still pays 100% of fees, room/board, books, etc.
  • Without this 50 percent waiver children/students may choose to attend community colleges or online degree/certification programs instead of patronizing four year institutions. University employees who can afford to allow their children to attend out of state colleges & universities will no longer have an incentive to select in-state institutions of higher learning.
  • Of equal importance is the fact that universities SUPPORT the 50 percent waivers.

Cutting tuition waivers could cause a “brain drain” in Illinois, said Rep. Kate Cloonen, D-Kankakee, while Franks said he hasn’t seen evidence suggesting that would happen.