Spotlight on Staff: Tuition Remission at Work
Staff Council Advocacy on Tuition Remission
- By Staff Council
Tuition remission is considered by many to be one of our most meaningful employee benefits. Nearly 900 staff used this benefit to further their own education in the last academic year.
When we take into account those who utilize this benefit for their children or dependents and look at the total tuition cost, it is clear that UVM is making a significant investment in its employees and their families.
From time to time Staff Council hears about staff experiencing difficulties understanding or accessing benefits. In the fall of 2012, Staff Council learned that some staff were reportedly being unreasonably denied release time to take advantage of the tuition remission benefit by their supervisors. In these instances, supervisors were not granting permission for staff to take classes even when coverage in the office had been worked out among colleagues and staff had offered to take vacation time or swap their time in a class for their lunch hour.
When investigating the language in the Staff Handbook, Staff Council discovered that the section on tuition remission did not provide a way for staff members to appeal their supervisor’s denial to take courses to better themselves personally and/or professionally. This created a situation where a supervisor could arbitrarily deny someone access to the tuition remission benefits.
Working with Barbara Johnson, Associate Vice President for Human Resource Services, Staff Council’s Compensation, Benefits and Budget Committee investigated these staff concerns and recommended clarifying language that provided options for staff members denied the ability to take courses using tuition remission.
What resulted from this collaborative effort was the addition of new language within the Staff Handbook. Here is an excerpt of the tuition remission language with the new line in bold.
“Exercising the tuition remission benefit is not contingent upon enrollment in a degree program. If a course is not available during the evening session, supervisors may authorize an employee to attend classes during the workday. However, time spent away from the job to attend classes must be made up by the employee or taken as vacation, personal days (if applicable), or unpaid leave, if approved by the supervisor. Release time to attend classes shall not be unreasonably denied. In the event of a denial, staff may contact an Employee Advisor in Human Resource Services for assistance.”
– UVM Staff Handbook, Tuition Remission, Eligibility
From now on, staff who believe they have been unreasonably denied release time will be able to work with an Employee Advisor in Human Resource Services to help navigate the situation that may have led to the denial. Those staff who initially brought this issue to our attention have since been able to take classes as a result of this language change.
Julie Paris is one staff member at UVM who has benefited greatly by taking advantage of the tuition remission benefit.
Julie began working at UVM in 2005 in an administrative support position at the Vermont Genetics Network (VGN), already having earned a Bachelor’s in Business Management. Julie knew early on that taking classes was something she wanted to pursue and she was extremely fortunate to have the support of her colleagues and supervisor in this endeavor. Julie began taking a few courses, but responsibilities with young children and a promotion to Program Manager at VGN led her to take a break. Later however, when the time was right, she re-launched her academic pursuits through some Continuing Education courses that led her to apply and be accepted into the Master of Public Administration Program (MPA).
Today, Julie has finished the last requirements of the MPA program, completed an internship, and recently accepted a new position as the Business Manager in the Department of Surgery in the College of Medicine.
“I personally feel that my degree played a role in getting this new position. The education definitely prepared me for the work involved, but more importantly it gave me the self-confidence in my abilities to know I could take on a lot more responsibility and be successful,” Julie said.
When asked whether she would have been able to pursue the degree had the tuition remission benefit not been available, Julie replied, “Absolutely not, I would not have gone back to school without this benefit in place. I would not have taken out loans.”
Julie admitted that one of the best things about taking classes was how many great people she met who work at the University and that many of these connections help her every day in her job. “If you’re even thinking about taking a class,” says Julie, “just try it! It is worth it.”
Our work on tuition remission is one small example of how Staff Council makes positive changes at the University of Vermont by advocating on behalf of staff. Staff Council is comprised of elected Representatives from all across the University who volunteer their time to help make UVM a better place for our entire community.
If you have a question, concern, idea, or thought about anything related to working at UVM, Staff Council wants to hear about it. You can email us at Staff.Council@uvm.edu, call us at 656-4493, or fill out a Contact Sheet. We maintain anonymity and all identifying information like names and departments are kept confidential.