U employee scholarship under review

While the Regent’s Scholarship experienced cuts in 2009, the program still faces scrutiny.

Brian Edwards

Recent data on the University of Minnesota’s Regents Scholarship could impact how employees perceive its benefits. 
A small portion of the University’s noninstructional employees benefit from the program, even though all of those employees have to pay for it, causing some to re-evaluate their support.
The Senate Consultative Committee discussed data on the scholarship — which allows noninstructional employees to take University classes at a discounted price — late last month. 
Employees and administrators have sparred over the program’s use for many years. Jigna Desai, vice chair of the SCC, said at the meeting that deans are concerned about the loss of tuition from the scholarship.
Currently, the program costs about $5 million per year for employees across all of the University’s campuses. Desai said reinstating full tuition coverage under the scholarship would cost about $8 million per year. 
Nearly 65 percent of as many employees who use the program take graduate level classes, according to the data. 
In 2009, the Board of Regents voted to cut some of the program’s funding. The program currently covers 75 percent of the cost for employees not seeking their first degree, and 100 percent of employee’s first baccalaureate degree were covered after the change.
Heidi Barajas, executive director of the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center and SCC member, said at the meeting that about 130 employees take organizational, leadership, policy and development classes because it helps them negotiate pay increases, but she questioned the undergraduate numbers.
“Why can’t we get people more invested in getting that first-time degree?” she said.
Gary Gardner, professor in the department of horticultural science, criticized the changes to the program. He said the Regents Scholarship is a great way to aid career development by using existing University resources.
“The administration ignores the [program’s] value to the institution,” Gardner said.
The Academic Professional and Administrative unit, which comprises about one-third of the program’s users, have long championed the benefits of the scholarship.
At the meeting, SCC members discussed whether P&A members would continue their push to reinstate full tuition coverage.
Desai said at the meeting that P&A employees would have to consider the benefit when all employees in the unit pay for a program used by a select group.
Susanne Vandergon, chair of the P&A Senate, said at the meeting that the group would have to further consider the numbers before making a decision. She said the group plans to discuss the scholarship’s benefits at a meeting later this month.
Joe Konstan, professor in the department of computer science and engineering, said the ability to take classes and explore interests can lead to a variety of benefits.
“There is … great benefit to allow people to indulge their curiosity,” Konstan said. “This isn’t just about professional development and career skills.”