Best-kept benefit secret: Employee educational assistance

A deep discount on a college or graduate education is among the best—and best-kept secret—benefits for University of Missouri employees and retirees. Yet, despite the significant financial and personal benefits to completing an undergraduate degree or pursing graduate work from the University of Missouri, few employees take advantage of this tremendous program—less than 3 percent in the fall 2008 semester.

Employees may be reluctant to adjust their work schedules or attempt to juggle homework assignments with family and volunteer obligations, but consider this: the average American with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn nearly $1 million more than a high school graduate over a lifetime, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A master’s degree translates to $1.3 million more than a high school diploma and $2.2 million more for a doctoral degree.

Spectrum recently sat down with three employees who have benefited enormously from the educational assistance program, and they all had one message: “If I could do it, anyone can do it!”

Their stories, below, will no doubt inspire other employees to pursue a degree from the university.

Rebecca’s story
Ten years ago, Rebecca Day was a single parent, struggling to raise two children while working a full-time and a part-time job. Day had been with the university for two years when her boss encouraged her to pursue a bachelor’s degree through the Employee Educational Assistance program. Day was one of the first MU In The Evening students, enrolling in 2001 and completing a degree in general studies in 2005. Not satisfied there, Day went on to earn a Master’s of Education in 2006.

“Because of the university’s Employee Educational Assistance program and the determination of my boss, my whole life has changed,” said Day. “If it had not been for this university paying for my school, I’d still be struggling. It’s just a wonderful opportunity that people don’t know is there.”

As coordinator of information systems for cardiopulmonary services, Day oversees the department’s software, new projects, ECG systems and all aspects of computer services—a job she loves.

In addition to her position at the university, Day is also a part-time information systems instructor at Stephens College and an online instructor for The Art Institute. She credits the educational assistance program with her professional and personal successes.

“It is has opened up many doors for me and given me all kinds of opportunities to advance myself. When I look back to 2001, I think: Wow! I’ve not only matured intellectually…I’ve just expanded my horizons.”

Day, who has a nearly-perfect grade point average, advises working parents who wish to continue their education to take online classes if possible and spend a few hours in the evening after children have gone to bed doing homework.

“If I can do it, anyone can do it!” Day said. “Employees don’t understand what an opportunity this is for them. Check into it; it’s great.”

Mary’s story
For Mary Simon Leuci, assistant dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and program director for Community Development Extension, earning a doctorate of education from the University of Missouri has given her a personal satisfaction of learning, which she feels has made her a better person and leader.

Leuci has worked for Extension for more than 22 years and holds a bachelor’s degree in agriculture with a focus on plant sciences and a master’s degree in adult and higher education, also from MU.

In addition to her duties as assistant dean, which include creating internship opportunities and integrating teaching and research with Extension, Leuci provides administrative program leadership to community development faculty on the MU, UMSL and UMKC campuses, and 20 faculty community development specialists across the state.

Eight years ago, Leuci decided to pursue a doctorate to give her “more tools to work with” in her career. She looked at various distance education programs across the country and found them to be too expensive. With her daughter’s future college education to consider, she did not want to take out a loan for her own education. When a colleague suggested Leuci enroll in the university’s cooperative Educational Leadership Program, Leuci was please to discover the program not only met her criteria and was highly ranked, but with the help of the Employee Educational Assistance program she would be able to obtain her degree without sacrificing her family’s finances.

Co-workers often ask Leuci about her experiences with the educational assistance program. “I tell them it’s fantastic,” she said. “You have a university benefit that if you had to go out and buy otherwise would be quite costly.”

Leuci’s advice to employees who are considering going back to school is to think about their other commitments and be motivated and ready to learn. She also found the support of her husband, friends, family and co-workers to be invaluable. “Because we’re an institution of higher education, it’s been my experience that we’re also very supportive of employees seeking to enhance their education,” she said.

Leuci’s greatest motivation to complete her doctorate? To show her daughter the value of education and that it is possible for her to have a family and a career, while still continuing to learn and better herself.

Bill’s story
Bill Ghiselli, now retired, joined the faculty of UMKC as an assistant professor with hopes of conducting research on animal behavior. When he realized that type of research wasn’t going to be feasible, he had to redirect his research interests, which meant taking additional graduate-level courses.

Ghiselli, who holds a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University and a master’s and doctoral degree from the University of Pittsburgh, turned to the university for help with tuition. Through an earlier version of employee educational assistance in the mid-70s, Ghiselli was able to take classes at the University of Kansas for half the cost.

Ghiselli pursued coursework in human development and family living and worked in the full-term human nursery at KU’s medical center—a move that changed his direction from animal research to development disabilities in humans. “It shot me off on a new academic track,” Ghiselli said.

He acknowledged that going back to school is difficult, especially for older employees and those with families. For faculty members continuing their education, Ghiselli recommends a year’s sabbatical, if possible. “Otherwise,” he said, “it’s work all day, school all night.”

Who is eligible to receive Employee Educational Assistance?
All regular employees and employees retired from the university can receive a 75 percent discount for up to six credit hours of University of Missouri college-level courses per semester and up to three credit hours in the summer session. For more details on the Employee Educational Assistant program, see the employee handbook or tune in to our podcast with Vice President for Human Resources Betsy Rodriguez.

Can employees take classes “just for fun?”
The savings are even greater for those who would like to take a course “just for fun” or without receiving credit (or having to worry about grades); there is no cost for employees to audit a course.

What about educational fee reduction for spouse and dependents?
Spouses and dependents of employees who have been employed full time by the university for at least five years are eligible to receive a 50 percent reduction of educational fees for up to 140 hours of University of Missouri college-level credit hours. For the average undergraduate course load (120 hours), this benefit translates to a savings of nearly $15,000. For information regarding educational fee reductions for spouses and dependents of employees, see the employee handbook or click here.

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