Nursing student Hayat Osman leaves her house when it’s still dark, spends her days in class and then works as a custodian at the Molecular and
Cellular Biology Building until midnight. She may work hard, but unlike most University students, when she graduates in two years Osman won’t have any debt.
Osman is one of around 2,400 full-time University employees who take advantage of University’s Regents Scholarship Program.
Established in 1939, the almost $8 million program offers free classes as a benefit for paid staff and faculty who work at least 30 hours, with only teaching assistants and unpaid honorary positions excluded, Susan E. Cable, a manager in the Department of Human Resources, said.
Financing for the program comes directly out of departmental budgets and is refreshed annually according to demand, Cable said.
“For every employee there’s a fringe cost to that position that helps support the program,” she said. “There’s no cap on tuition dollars.”
The scholarship covers tuition for both undergraduate and graduate level classes.
The suggested class load for each employee is one class, although supervisors are given discretion to approve more.
Employees who use the scholarship are enrolled in programs ranging from English as a second language to doctorates in advanced sciences, Cable said.
William Lee, a building and grounds worker who received a degree in comparative literature in 2004 through the scholarship and is planning to pursue a
teaching degree, said he upgraded to a full-time job at the University specifically to take advantage of the scholarship and avoid debt.
“(Students) don’t see the larger issue that when you get the degree, are you going to be able to pay off those loans or go further into debt,” Lee said. “They don’t see how easily it would be to work a little harder when you’re in school and be debt-free.”
The scholarship benefits the University by attracting and retaining good employees, Cable said.
Haile Redda, a building and grounds supervisor, said the employees who utilize the scholarship are some of the best workers.
“The people who take the scholarship are the people who are the most productive people at work also,” he said. “They’re progressing in their lives, they’re going to school. They have something to look forward to.”
Traditional students also benefit from having nontraditional students in their classes, Cable said.
“There’s the theoretical side of education where you’ve gained all the book knowledge, but you have none of the work experience,” Cable said. “It’s an enhancement.”
Lee said his experience as a custodian makes him notice how students treat the classrooms.
“You see people flagrantly littering and spilling,” Lee said. “(It) doesn’t mean other people should be forced to see that, it’s just that if they were custodians on second shift taking classes, they’d be a lot cleaner.”
Attending school and work full-time doesn’t come without some sacrifices, which is why some employees might be hesitant to use the scholarship, Osman, the nursing student, said.
“I don’t communicate with other people at all,” she said. “I just don’t have any other life than school and then work.”
Many of the employees who use the scholarship are first-time students; the University is working to make the scholarship more accessible, Cable said.
“Some people may feel very intimidated by the process,” she said. “They know they’re eligible for the program but they’ve never registered before, they have no idea where to start.”
Steve Dilger, a pipefitter foreman who is taking University classes to apply to an associate’s degree from Michigan State University, said his supervisors were supportive in helping him arrange the classes.
“(With) just a little bit of research you can find out the information about where to go and what to do,” Dilger said.
Despite the challenges, Osman said she’s happy to be using the scholarship, and has adapted to the sometimes strange ways that University classes function.
“Especially eating in class, it annoyed me,” she said. “For the first two or three months, I wasn’t even listening to the lecture.”