Getting the Most from Your Institution

Pay Day! Pay Day!

[This is a guest post by Lee Skallerup Bessette, who teaches English at Morehead State University. Her blog is College Ready Writing, and you can follow her on Twitter at @readywriting.--@jbj]

As you begin to lift the fog of summer and think about the upcoming semester, it’s time to also think about making the most of the benefits you are entitled to that come with your position. Many of us don’t take full advantage of the full slate of benefits afforded to us; I know I didn’t. But, I got sick and tired of my meager salary and dwindling resources so I decided to take advantage of many of the other ways I am compensated for my work. As Jason wrote a couple of years ago, understanding your paycheck and benefits is the most important profhack of all.

Note, as well, that most of the benefits I am talking about are only available to those who are on full-time contracts; adjuncts and other short-term contract employees often have access to few, if any, of the benefits I describe here. I’d say, it never hurts to ask, but we know that it often can. Having worked as an adjunct for a number of years, I know very well the disparity not only between the pay, but also the benefits that adjuncts receive as opposed to their full-time colleagues.

The first benefit I want to address is the tuition credit benefit or tuition waivers. While MOOCs are fine for brushing up on skills, sometimes what is needed are actual classes, with structured feedback, lectures, and labs, with a professor that you can talk to, face-to-face. Not to mention the transcript that comes with it. Particularly for those of us who are looking to transition into the digital humanities and learn more computer/technical skills, taking a few computer science or programming courses might be beneficial.

Personally, I am able to take up to 18 credits a year, and no more than six credits a semester, for free, as long as I have the approval of my chair. The courses need to be at the undergraduate level, but if the course I want to take isn’t offered by my university, then I can take it at one of the other state institutions that offers it. Given the growth in online learning, I don’t necessarily have to sit in class for three-five hours every week, but being on campus means that I can also access the professor if necessary. Check your university’s HR webpage and see what you need to do to take advantage of this often unused benefit.

Another opportunity are the shorter professional development courses/seminars put on by various offices across campuses. These might be more relevant if you are looking to move on to bigger and better things at another institution (they are credentials, after all), but nonetheless, it can help as well with networking opportunities within the institution. Who knows, you may also learn something. Many of these offices contribute to the rise in our students’ tuition (and the stagnation of our salaries) so we might as well see what they are all about, network, and learn something in the process.

The next benefit is your healthcare plan. Most of us know about (but how many of us understand?) our insurance, but, in order to keep premiums down, most universities have wellness incentive plans to encourage their employees (us) to be as healthy as possible. Often you can earn wellness points in order to reduce monthly premium payments, or have access to wellness and exercise classes for free. Sign ups for these programs will usually take place at the beginning of the semester and hopefully you can see not only reductions in your monthly premiums, but also get fit. I know that taking care of ourselves physically is important to ProfHacker readers.

One of the biggest challenges, of course, is finding the time to take advantage of these benefits, what with all the grading, and teaching, and research, and writing, and committees, and advising…But, if we are committed to our health, our professional development, and our desire to at least approach getting what we are worth, then we can make time to find out and take advantage of those benefits that actually belong to us.

This isn’t even to begin to talk about the various services that institutions provide to both students and faculty. We sometimes forget that there are many non-academic departments whose role is to help us do our jobs better; from technology to research to writing to pedagogy, there are people on campus who would be overjoyed to assist us in our work. I know ProfHacker readers know all about collaborating beyond departmental and traditional academic boundaries, but we often get wrapped up in our own work and forget about what else is out there, on our campus.

The start of the semester is the perfect time to set the tone for the rest of the academic year. Go out, and take advantage!

What other benefits or services does your institution offer that I have overlooked or forgotten?

Photo “Pay Day! Pay Day!” by Flickr user JD Hancock / Creative Commons licensed BY-2.0″

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