Higher Ed Jobs Mean Lower College Costs

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Holly Foster didn't even secure herself a job on a college campus with the traditionally robust, if little known, tuition benefit in mind. The communications department gig at Hamilton College was a good fit, but her children were little at the time, and the concept of steep college bills was still an abstraction. Fast forward, a few years later. When she realized what this benefit amounted to, Foster nearly danced a gavotte.

For Anne Riffle, who works in Hamilton’s Registrar’s office, the lure of getting tuition covered as an employment benefit was a major factor in her coming to work at the upstate New York school in the first place. With three kids, she’s been dancing ever since.

Families around the world show the strain of the daily nightmare that is the cost of college. But for families with a parent working on a college campus, there can be considerable relief in the form of getting all or half of tuition covered. The rules vary by institution, but many cover the tuition of an employee’s child in full on their own campus and half if they attend another accredited school. Moreover, as an employee, you don’t have to be a professor or high-ranking administrator to qualify. Secretaries and even athletic department equipment managers also stand to benefit.

Whatever the precise case, this is a benefit few outsiders know exists. But in these tight-fisted times or even, considering the cost of college, during flush times, it presents a good reason to consider a campus career of one kind or another.

At Hamilton, there are currently about 90 children of employees receiving the benefit with about a dozen attending Hamilton, said Stephen Stemkoski, the school’s director of human resources, who said that in meetings with prospective employees, eyebrows do calisthenics when they get to this particular line item on the benefit list.

Even if the parents among them don’t actually dance around his office, Stemkoski notes, “I think they may want to.”

Employees (contract workers are ineligible) need to have worked at Hamilton for three years and the school will pay half their tuition at Hamilton or elsewhere. Those like Riffle, who have been at Hamilton since before June of 2000, have full tuition covered at Hamilton.

These days, some schools, like Hamilton, have done away with full tuition coverage on their own campus, while grandfathering it in for longstanding employees. Drew University in Madison, N.J., still allows children of employees free tuition though, like most others, books still cost, as does room and board, if the student chooses to live on campus. While Drew offers up its own campus free as air, it covers 42% of other campus tuition versus Hamilton’s 50%.

The point is that while some universities offer similar benefits, the precise details vary from campus to campus. There are commonalities, though. Most require a term of employment before qualifying for the benefit. Usually, too, a five-year plan will try the patience of the college, which tends to pay for only eight semesters, though they might not have to be sequential.

The underlying premise, though, holds across an array of colleges: If you want a big chunk of your kid’s tuition covered, get thee to an institution of higher learning and grab a job, any job.

I have three kids, which means before too long, I’ll probably be seeing you around campus.

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