Rep. Franks proposes to end tuition waivers

By Abigale Svoboda

The University employs 2,548 faculty members, 3,665 administrative and academic professional staff and 4,136 support staff at the Urbana campus alone. Sam LeRoy, freshman in Business, is just one of these employees’ dependents who is currently eligible to receive a 50 percent tuition waiver to attend the University.

However, Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, proposed to phase out tuition waivers over the next four years.

An Illinois Board of Higher Education report on tuition waivers for fiscal year 2014 showed 637 children of employees were enrolled at the Urbana campus.

Franks proposed HB 403 in an effort to save the state an estimated $10 million per year, reversing a 1998 statute that grants tuition waivers. In his proposal, students beginning college in the fall of 2015 would not receive waivers. Students who are already in school would maintain eligibility until graduation. At this rate, the waivers would be completely phased out by 2018.

At the academic senate meeting Monday, John Kindt, professor of business administration, announced that the proposed bill has been “put on the back burner” due to employees at the University and across the state voicing their negative opinions on the bill.

Sam is a Champaign native and the youngest of three children. His father, Michael LeRoy, is a professor in Labor and Employment Relations and Law. Michael attended the University and has been working there ever since. According to Sam, it’s safe to say the LeRoy’s are lifelong Illini.

Still, Sam said if he was not eligible for a tuition waiver, he would have considered other schools. Since Sam is already enrolled at the University, he will receive the waiver until he graduates in 2018.

“That’s quite a bit of money and probably would have played a factor in my decision to come to the University,” Sam said.

Tom Hardy, University spokesman, said the University is still in support of tuition waivers and is working with other state universities and employee groups to fight the bill and help students.

Sam, who attended University Laboratory High School in Urbana, said that about half of his graduating class enrolled at the University this year, a common pattern for the school. Many of the students’ parents are professors or staff members.

Sam’s father disagrees with his son’s negative opinion of the bill.

“On the one hand, it strikes me as a good place to start cutting back the budget because it does favor a small group, and the state is deeply in debt so I can’t say that I’m opposed to it,” Michael said.

He added that he would like to see staff — University employees who work in departments such as building and housing — remain eligible for part or all of the waiver since faculty members typically receive a higher salary from the start.

Additionally, LeRoy added that many private schools and other states have similar or better programs, which could cause the University to lose its ability to obtain the “outstanding faculty” it has currently.

“It’s sort of another contributor to brain drain in Illinois,” Michael said.

Hardy echoed that the University is always trying to retain residents for college.

“We’re constantly concerned about the outward migration of our highly talented high school graduates going to colleges and universities in other states,” Hardy said.

The University has led a push to retain Illinois residents for college by admitting more in-state students this year. Michael said if Illinois faculty and staff don’t have the benefit of tuition waivers, they may leave the University.

Sam agreed, stating that students may choose to go to smaller, private schools where they will receive scholarships, or attend other state schools with lower tuition.

According to the University’s human resources website, the children of academic employees who have worked for any public university or college in Illinois for at least seven years are eligible to receive a waiver to attend that school.

Additionally, all academic staff members who maintain an appointment of at least 25 percent for a minimum of 75 percent of a semester are eligible for a tuition and fee waiver for University courses.

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