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August 15, 2012 | By | Posted in Legislature

Law would strip tuition waivers for profs’ families

By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — A Republican lawmaker wants to end the free ride for families of state university professors and employees.

State Rep. Brad Roae

State Rep. Brad Roae, of Crawford, introduced the Keep Tuition Affordable bill package aimed at reforming spending at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

The House State Government Committee heard testimony on four bills in the package Tuesday, including one that would remove tuition waivers for employees, their children and their spouses.

Some 2,569 tuition waivers — worth more than $10.1 million — were granted in the 2010-2011 school year, according to PASSHE data.

Roae said state colleges should end the free ride for students, who, in some cases, are “children of tenured professors who earn more than $100,000 a year,” he said.

In 2010-2011, $7.9 million in full waivers went to children of employees, according to PASSHE. Children of professors received $2.4 million in full waivers. The rest went to children of other faculty and staff.

These benefits contribute to PASSHE’s spending and tuition increases, Roae said. Other bills in his package include eliminating sabbaticals for state university professors and mandatory student activity fees as well as placing a moratorium on specific building projects.

“PASSHE’s mission is providing the lowest possible cost for our students,” Roae said. “With the excessive union contracts, the building sprees, things like that, they’re going to get away from that mission pretty quickly.”

Tuition at PASSHE institutions jumped 3 percent this academic year, following a 7.5 percent bump last year.

Roae said dropping the tuition waiver would save each student nearly $83 annually. While admitting that’s not a lot of money, Roae said students who pay nothing raise the cost for everyone else.

“When you have the cost to run a PASSHE university, that cost has to be divided by the number of students,” he said.

PASSHE Chancellor John Cavanaugh

PASSHE Chancellor John Cavanaugh said during committee testimony that eliminating tuition benefits, along with sabbaticals, would hamper efforts to attract quality faculty.

A PASSHE survey of public universities showed that 70 percent offer tuition waivers to children of employees and 72 percent to spouses.

Jonathan Robe, administrative director with Washington, D.C.-based research institute The Center for College Affordability and Productivity, said removing fringe benefits, like free tuition for relatives, would increase spending.

Institutions might have to raise employee pay to compensate for the lost benefit and remain competitive, Robe said.

“This is a decision best left to the individual institutions,” he said.

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, chairman of the House State Government Committee, said Roae’s package is unlikely to be addressed with less than two weeks in the legislative session, but the Legislature must address the issue, citing professors’ contracts as driving tuition increases.

“When you have administrations that negotiate contracts with very little input from the Legislature that has to appropriate the expenditures to cover those contracts, that is a problem,” he said. “And it’s a problem in the way Pennsylvania has dealt with that policy over the years and I think it needs to be changed.”

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Melissa Daniels is a reporter for PA Independent. She can be reached at 717-350-0962 or Melissa@PAIndependent.com

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