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UC staff renew the call for educational-fee discounts
Despite faculty support, the systemwide administration has rejected previous proposals to provide full or partial waivers for employee dependents. Advocates hope to give the regents a chance to reconsider next year

| 08 December 2005

University of California staff leaders are reviving the long-discussed proposal to offer educational-fee discounts to employees' spouses, domestic partners, and children, and they say it could be on the Board of Regents' agenda as early as January.

"The timing is right to bring it back," says Rosemary Anderson, chair of the Council of University of California Staff Assemblies (CUCSA).

Anderson says CUCSA is working with allies on the board to put the fee-discount proposal back on the table. "This would go a long way in boosting morale," she says. "What a great gesture for our dependents to attend the university that we all serve." In addition, UCSF work-life professional David Bell, who served as CUCSA chair in 2004 and is now one of two staff advisers to regents' committees, says he is "strategizing" with the president's office on the proposal.

Anderson, Bell, and other staff and faculty leaders continue to maintain that the discounts would aid in employee recruitment and retention.

Says Terry Downs, Berkeley's senior delegate to CUCSA and chair of the organization's fee-waiver workgroup this year: "We're planning to go forward with backing for this proposal again this year. We know the faculty support it, and by joining forces we hope that UC will see the widespread value of this program. While it would cost the university more now than it would have when it was first proposed, the cost is still not exorbitant and the benefit is enormous. We firmly believe that it would help draw and keep the best at Berkeley - both faculty and staff."

Anderson, an executive assistant at UC Santa Cruz, says staff is "ideally looking at a full waiver," though partial discounts also have been discussed. A faculty proposal in 2004 called for phased-in discounts: 50 percent for three years and 100 percent after that.

Based on recently approved 2006-07 fees, a full waiver for four years of undergraduate study, two semesters or three quarters a year, would be worth $23,356.

The Academic Council, the systemwide administrative arm of the the Academic Senate, put forth fee-discount recommendations in 2000, 2002, and 2004. "And our position really hasn't changed," UCLA professor Cliff Brunk, council chair, said recently.

UC President Robert Dynes rejected the council's 2004 proposal to extend fee discounts to dependents, citing "four years of state budget cuts" and higher priorities such as faculty salaries and maintaining educational-program quality.

The current cost of a 100-percent fee discount is unknown. In a 2002 letter to the council, Dynes' predecessor, Richard Atkinson, using enrollment and employment data from 2000, estimated an annual cost of $5.6 million to waive all educational fees for employees' dependents.

"That's really a relatively small amount of money in terms of gain," says CUCSA's Anderson, though Brunk notes, "It does have a real expense associated with it." But, he adds, "It's just a question of where you want to put your money now."

Competing priorities

Brad Hayward, executive director of strategic communications at UC's Office of the President, says, "There is a long list of competing priorities for funding as our budget situation slowly begins to recover, and this proposal would need to be factored into that conversation."

Hayward says UC will "certainly take a close look at what CUCSA proposes. We know there historically has been wide employee interest in such a benefit, though it is also a benefit that likely would be used by relatively few employees at any one time."

(In his 2002 report, Atkinson acknowledged that more dependents might enroll if fee discounts were available, "but there is no accurate way to predict the impact approval of the benefit would have on these figures.")

The Academic Council's 2004 resolution sought 100-percent fee waivers for qualified dependents of all faculty and other eligible employees, described as those having membership in the UC Retirement Program and five years of service.

Anderson says that in the San Francisco Bay Area alone she knows of staff members who left for Stanford, Santa Clara, and St. Mary's to get free tuition for dependents.

Those universities are private; fee discounts for employee dependents are not as prevalent among public institutions. In the California State University system, however, employees can take two courses or six units per term without paying educational fees, and any employee can transfer this benefit to a spouse or child.

The University of Maryland is among the public institutions that offer tuition discounts to employee dependents. Those with in-state residency pay no tuition, a savings of $6,566 for 2005-06. However, they do pay $1,255 in mandatory fees.

Dave Rieger, assistant director for benefits at UM at College Park, says the administration "grumbles" now and then about doing away with the fee waivers, "but it kind of gets pooh-poohed."

"If this were to go away," Rieger says, "we'd have a hard time getting decent people that we'd want to stay."