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Md. university staff may lose free tuition benefit

ANNAPOLIS —Maryland legislators may require state university system employees to start paying half the cost of tuition for themselves and their children to help solve state budget woes.

Right now, the roughly 21,000 University System of Maryland employees — from top brass to groundskeepers — and their dependents are entitled to free tuition. The proposal to cut those benefits in half is part of a plan from House GOP Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell to close an estimated $2 billion budget deficit. O’Donnell’s office says changing the tuition benefit would save the state $6.85 million a year.

“We have deficits as far as the eye can see,” said O’Donnell, who represents Calvert and St. Mary’s counties. “We can’t afford a lot of this stuff. It’s just something we can’t afford to pay for anymore.”

Sue Esty, assistant director of the Maryland chapter of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the tuition remission program is a popular benefit that helps recruit and retain university staff. The federation represents 6,100 higher education employees in Maryland, Esty said, including clerical, security and maintenance workers.

“For many of them, their children will be the first generation to attend college,” Esty said. “They have so much hope and expectation built into this benefit. Some of them take advantage of the program to better themselves and their careers, too.”

The university system’s chief lobbyist, P.J. Hogan, said reducing the perk would put schools at a disadvantage with other area colleges that offer free tuition to staff. Many schools around the country offer free tuition to staffers and their dependents.

“It does not make us unique by having the benefit,” Hogan said. “By cutting it in half or eliminating it, that actually would make us unique and it would put us at a competitive disadvantage for recruiting and retaining staff, faculty and researchers.”

Leaders of the American Council on Education, a trade association for 2,000 public and private colleges and universities, largely agreed with Hogan. Terry Hartle, the group’s senior vice president, said his group’s research shows it is typically the lower-wage workers who take advantage of the tuition benefits.

“They think it’s going after the full professors, the presidents and chancellors, but there are a lot more people on university campuses making $60,000 or less than those making over $100,000,” Hartle said.

O’Donnell said he expected to hear opponents of his idea say the proposed reduction could affect recruitment.

“Their job is to look out for their special, particular interests and our job is to look out for interests of the entire state,” he said.

He added that he doubted reducing the benefit would affect the university’s ability to hire.

“Not in these times, there are plenty of people who would love to fill those positions,” O’Donnell said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Norman Conway, D-Wicomico, said some Democrats are considering O’Donnell’s tuition benefit reduction. But he said no decisions have been made yet.

“We’re going to look at everything,” Conway said. “Evidently, there are some folks that think this is something you ought to talk about.”

8 comments

  1. In order to close the gap of deficit, why the Governor, Deputy Governor, Comptroller, Mr. Anthony J. O’Donnell and other Top Brass of the Government, including City Mayors, Deputy Mayors and the whole military of Counties Governments and other lagislators come forward and sacrifice a percentage of there lavish salaries and perks instead of slashing benefits for the public and their dependents?

    With due respect to the House GOP Leader Mr. Anthony J. O’Donnell, the deficit “We have deficits as far as the eye can see” is just because the leaders like yourself are trying to suck each and every single penny out of public’s pockets to make the lives easy and comfortable of themselves and of their dependents so that no one out of public can come up and get in your spots except your dependents and relatives. All of you folks have forgot the end of your lives and the day of judgement.SHAME ON YOU.

  2. Why should the taxpayers of the State foot this tuition bill? In this job environment the recruitment argument rings hollow. This perk should be eliminated entirely not just cut in half. Does this benefit get taxed by the IRS as income? Who does not agree with Representative O’Donnell?
    As a taxpayer I plan to formally request an audit on how much this expenditure costs annually. Do figures exist tabulating the cost of this entitlement?
    Furthermore, for years the University of Maryland has been promoting providing “in State” tuition to illegal aliens. Not even legal US citizens from other states get this privilege. Perhaps the University system of Maryland has too many employees as well. Do they keep hiring based on “stimulus money” that will disappear? What then in terms of pension benefits and the deficit that causes? Time to vote with your feet Marylanders.

  3. Yet those same legislators want to give low out of state tuition to illegal aliens. This state is so screwed up in the head they will never get out of their budget problems. They do not want to make the hard decisions and fire people at the top because of cronyism. They so busy buying wet lands to save an owl rather than stop spend and save jobs. The University of Maryland is an over priced placed anyway and I’m glad I can’t afford to go their. If you want to pay for a name and prestige go their, but if you want an education go some place else. Many of the students are stuck up prep want to be’s. The University have their heads so far up the DC. six they’re suffocating. These are our next Maryland legislators, old blood and guts, our blood their guts.

  4. I am a teacher who went to college as the spouse of a state university employee. I contribute service to my community, involvement and improvement in the lives of our youth, and taxes to the federal, state, and local governments well beyond the original investment made in me. Because I was able to become the first member of my family to earn a degree, my two daughters have now graduated from college, enabling them to become taxpayers as well. The ripple effect of these tuition programs is immeasurable.

  5. Just one more reason why the private sector can’t compete with the State in the workforce market.

    Since crossing over to the dark side (gov employment), after spending 35 years in the private sector, I am almost daily surprised to discover another tax free perk or similar benefit to working for the State. Good for me.

    Unbelievable ! ! !

  6. Hold on – I have worked for the state for 30 years. I have gone many years without pay raises or COLA. I have had many furloughs too. I have worked through all this so that my daughter could go to school at Maryland. That was promised to me and would have been a benefit to you if you would have choosen to work here. You have the choice. So now after 30 years you tell me that I can’t have something that has been promised to me. I haven’t saved anything for my her education so how can you change the rules now? And it isn’t tax free – I pay taxes on my education.

  7. Well…it seems like it would create more problems. As a university state employee, I would be forced to either seek financial aid, or not take classes at all. So I’m not really sure how this answers the problem. In this recession, and even out of a recession with rising tuition, who can afford to pay tuition out of pocket with annual salaries under $60k??? They won’t be able to force employees to pay…so how will this solve anything?

  8. I am always astonished to hear state workers complain about low pay and inadequate benefits! I have worked for nonprofits for 30 years and have received no retirement benefits, will have no health insurance guarantee at retirement, have had many fewer holiday and vacation days, and have worked very hard for pay that is far lower than state employees in similar positions earn. No one is providing me or my children with free tuition, though my work greatly benefits people in the state. I would support a tiered tuition break for employees earning less than $40,000 or $50,000 annually, but after that it seems reasonable that they pay just like the rest of us.

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