University News

U. may boost aid for employees’ children

In a recent evaluation of 19 institutions, Brown ranked lowest for tuition assistance

By
Staff Writer
Friday, March 15, 2013

Just over 400 children of University employees currently receive benefits from the Tuition Aid Program, including 57 TAP recipients who attend Brown, said Harold Roth, professor of religious studies and member of the Faculty Executive Committee.

The program provides financial aid to University employees’ children who are enrolled in college, and the faculty recommended changing TAP  from a fixed sum of $10,000 to a higher percentage-based system at the faculty’s February meeting.

The benefit currently covers 24 percent of Brown’s tuition — less than half the mean percentage of tuition covered at several of the University’s peer institutions, according to a report from the Joint Committee on Employee Benefits.

At its meeting, the faculty endorsed increasing the benefit to 36 percent of tuition and passed an amendment calling for the program to be increased to cover 50 percent of tuition over the next three years, The Herald previously reported.

The committee also recommended updating the benefit annually to adjust for tuition hikes, inflation and cases in which the University’s peer institutions substantially increase their own tuition benefit programs.

The University currently incurs a cost of $4,030,000 for the program. Increasing to 36 percent would cost roughly $2 million more, according to the report.

Eligible employees for TAP are professors with tenure or staff members who have been continuously employed by the University for at least four years. TAP funds can be applied to tuition at Brown or other institutions. In 2002, the benefit was set at a flat $10,000, which at the time was 36 percent  of tuition. But the benefit has remained fixed at $10,000 since then without accounting for inflation or the steady rise in tuition, according to the committee’s report.

The report highlighted the gap between the size of TAP and similar programs at 19 peer institutions. This disparity “has serious consequences for the recruitment and retention of faculty,” according to the report.

Roth said many employees with children have expressed concerns about going into debt to put their children through college. “We’ve had a number of people raise this with the Faculty Executive (Committee) in the past year,” he said, adding that most staff members and administrators are likely unaware of how small the University’s  benefit is relative to its peers.

The first version of TAP, in 1979, gave employees the choice of either a tuition benefit to be used for their children at Brown and other universities or a contribution from the University to offset the cost of health insurance premiums. Eligible employees could also opt for a combination of both at a reduced level.

The University ranked the lowest in tuition benefit offerings among the institutions evaluated in the report. Roth said Harvard and Dartmouth provide alternative perks, such as no-interest loans or higher overall salaries. The mean offering among the evaluated institutions is 63 percent of tuition costs for use at the home school or 37 percent of the home institution’s tuition at another school. Every other institution assessed in the report offering a benefit does so based on percentages of tuition rather than on a fixed amount.

Karen Davis, vice president for human resources, said the benefit comes from the “same pot of money that the University uses to fund academic programs, faculty and staff salaries, facilities maintenance and so on,” and is therefore part of “a series of trade-offs” in budget decisions. The budget is set to allocate roughly $3.3 million to TAP in the upcoming fiscal year, she said.

Davis said the decision to increase the program’s budget must be considered in the broader context of all the other expenses the University has and other programs it wants to expand or initiate. The Office of Human Resources is responsible for administering the benefit — taking part in discussions on the policy, explaining TAP on its website and determining applicants’ eligibility, Davis said.

James Tilton, director of financial aid, said the Office of Financial Aid records how much employees’ children receive for TAP in Banner after human resources determines their benefits. Students who receive TAP can still be eligible for need-based aid, he said. The benefit usually goes toward filling the summer savings expectation, the work requirement or any loan. The benefit is treated as any outside scholarship and does not affect the financial aid office’s consideration of the family’s total income.

“The same funds that would be used to increase the TAP benefit for faculty and staff are those that could otherwise be used in pursuit of other goals of the University, including financial aid,” Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 wrote in an email to The Herald. “The president is considering whether or not to expand this benefit in the context of all the other things we would like to do to enhance Brown.”

The report, which was endorsed unanimously by the faculty, would ultimately have to be approved by the provost and the president to take effect in the 2014-15 academic year at the earliest.

Schlissel wrote that he was “leery” of increasing funding to something that would only benefit staff members with children, questioning whether it would be advantageous to the University’s mission. Davis said offering competitive benefits is “key” to attracting and keeping quality faculty and staff members but added that there are many faculty members unaffected by TAP who would rather see the funds spent on other programs.