A salary; medical, dental, vision, prescription, and life insurances; retirement savings partially matched by the University; and legal and long term disability plans don’t seem to be enough benefits for University staff members. According to an article in the Ann Arbor News on May 23, they are requesting subsidized tuition for their dependents, citing the recent economic downturn as the reason and putting the needs of their dependents before the 41,000 tuition-paying students at the University (University of Michigan cool to tuition benefit for staff, 05/23/2009).

Specifically, staffers are asking the University to match funds in the Michigan Education Trust — a program in which parents can pay tuition for a state university early at a rate that will not change when tuition is raised in later years. The staffers are requesting a match of up to $3,000 per dependent. They argue that for the University to remain competitive with other institutions, it must create some sort of tuition program for its employees.

But the University already provides a considerable number of benefits. University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham was quoted in the Ann Arbor News saying the University is already “at or above average” employee benefits. This alone negates the argument staffers are putting forward about attracting top employees.

This request would have serious consequences for the University. Subsidizing tuition for employees’ children would be extremely costly. There are 36,000 people employed full time by the University in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint, not including graduate student instructors and researchers. Who would pay the extra cost that such a financial burden would place on the University?

Staffers suggest the University could make up the difference with discretionary funds and private donations. This suggestion is naive and misguided. If there is extra money floating around, it should be tapped for the student body as a whole, to fund programs to cut tuition for all students. Today’s economy is tough for everyone, not just those who happen to be progeny of University staff. If the University can only afford to cut tuition for a small handful, the qualification to obtain aid should be based on financial need, not employment with the University.

The reality is that the University is raising tuition for everyone. The Board of Regents have made it clear that there isn’t enough money to maintain the University’s current operations — let alone proposed additional costs like subsidized tuition for the children of University staff — without raising tuition once again. If extra money is going to come from anywhere, it’s likely to come from the pockets of students already paying full tuition. To ask already financially burdened students to subsidize the education of the children of University employees is a selfish demand.

The staff argues that in these tough times, the University should be taking care of its own. While the University acknowledges this, it also must recognize that it has an equal responsibility to each of its students — not just a select few. If the University were to raise tuition yet again to comply with this request, it would be ignoring the needs of the majority of its students.

The good news is that the University doesn’t seem inclined to oblige this request. The University feels the strain of the failing economy, too, and it doesn’t think that its staff is in danger of being stolen by universities with better tuition plans for dependents. The case presented by University employees fails to provide a sufficient reason for the tuition plan, other than not wanting to pay for their children to go to college. If that alone were a good enough reason, everyone in the country would qualify for a tuition plan.

The clincher that makes the staffer’s request ridiculous lies in the nature of the MET. MET tuition can go toward any of the 13 public universities in Michigan. That means the University’s money could pay for a college education at another college, which is absurd. The University would see zero return on its investment. Education for everyone is important, but this request goes too far.

And this proposal means an even darker possibility — tuition could be raised to subsidize tuition for University staffers who could use the money to send their kids to Michigan State University. Ouch.

Erika Mayer is an LSA sophomore.

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