Illinois Bill Would End a Prized Perk: Tuition Discounts for Faculty and Staff

March 07, 2012

Illinois lawmakers are weighing whether to eliminate a faculty benefit that is highly prized by many professors and other university employees: tuition discounts for their children.

The legislation, which has passed a House committee and is now pending before Illinois' full House of Representatives, would get rid of the benefit, which allows faculty and staff members who have been employed at Illinois public universities for at least seven years to receive half-price tuition for their children. Each year, more than 2,000 students take advantage of the discount, costing the state about $8-million, according to the University of Illinois.

Advocates of the bill have said the state cannot afford to continue to offer the tuition discount and questioned why university employees should get a special break that other Illinois residents do not. The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Luis Arroyo, a Democrat, also has complained that there is no income limit on who can use the waivers. So they can aid presidents, for example, who earn annual salaries in the six figures.

University officials and faculty-union leaders, among others, oppose the bill, saying the tuition discount—which is offered by many universities across the country—is an important tool for recruiting and retaining top faculty members.

"The waivers are a reasonable benefit for our hard-working faculty and staff, who contribute greatly to the state's well-being through their teaching and research," said Michael J. Hogan, president of the University of Illinois. "The waivers are part of what universities consider the normal compensation package when we recruit faculty in a very competitive market. Without them we are at an extreme disadvantage."

Tuition benefits for faculty have also come under scrutiny in Oregon and Washington State. A group of five, private liberal-arts colleges—Lewis and Clark College, Reed College, the University of Puget Sound, Whitman College, and Willamette University—has decided to end a tuition-exchange program in which the faculty and staff of those colleges have been able to send their children, if admitted, to other institutions in the group at no cost. The program, which began in 1982, will end after the fall of 2015. A number of factors, including the fact that significant differences in numbers of employees among the colleges had led to imbalances in exchanges of students, contributed to the program's demise. The decision upset many professors who considered the benefit to be extremely valuable.