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Perks of Working in Higher Education
by Tracy Williams
Many corporate entities may brag about retaining talented employees with perks above and beyond the standard benefits package. One sector, however, consistently offers outstanding perks to its employees yet rarely gets the press -- higher education.
Bob Freeman, director of human resources for Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, IA, agrees, "After working in human resources in the business world for 17 years prior to working in the world of academia for the last two, I can state without hesitation that I have a renewed energy and passion for my profession. I owe this to the employee-friendly environment a college or university affords its employee base."
Colleges and universities can offer a full range of unique benefits by leveraging their existing investments -- usually targeted for the student population -- and translate those offerings to a positive employee experience. For the most part, these perks are not the exception, but the rule. The result is a productive workforce that easily balances work and personal life.
Take a look at some of the benefits that make working in higher education so attractive:
ConvenienceLook no further than the campus athletic, wellness, or student center to find exactly what you need to take care of your health -- and your daily "to do" items.
- Hard to find time to exercise? Not when it is right where you work. Red River College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, offers all recreational facilities for faculty and staff to use, including classes such as yoga and tae-boxing, as well as an indoor running track.
- At North Harris Montgomery Community College District in The Woodlands, TX, employees who engage in a minimum of three hours of exercise each week receive up to an hour and a half of release time from their duties to participate in such activities.
- Saginaw Valley State University in University Center, MI, offers access to its athletic facilities for employees, spouses, and dependent children at no cost. Discounts to a local golf course are also provided.
- Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, IN, actually pays its employees and their spouses to work out. Employees and their spouses can earn an extra $150 each per quarter for meeting basic exercise requirements. Neil A. Rush, director of human resources shares, "The wellness incentive has not only helped in containing group health-insurance costs, but it provides a nice vacation fund for many families."
- Almost all campuses provide a thriving student-center area that includes access to several restaurants and convenience stores. Barnard College in New York, NY, even offers access to darkroom facilities, piano practice rooms, and a New York City Ticket Booth.
- Employees at Cabrillo College in Aptos, CA, can take advantage of the Farmer's Market "Shop with the Chef" Series on campus. Employees not only have access to fresh seasonal produce, but they also have the opportunity to meet professional chefs from local restaurants, caterers and cookbook authors who give cooking demonstrations throughout the summer. Employees can also meet the farmers who grow the food and learn how to use fresh seasonal ingredients.
Education BenefitsCollege is expensive -- but not if you are employed in higher education. The tuition benefits alone are hard to beat. Companies may try to hire employees who currently work in higher education, but if that employee has one or more children and/or a spouse taking advantage of a free education -- good luck convincing him or her to leave the institution.
- At Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, not only can employees and spouses take classes for free under its tuition-waiver program, but dependents can enroll in courses at a significant discount, up to 80 percent of the cost of tuition.
- If your child is enrolled in a Christian elementary and secondary school (K-12), Calvin even has grants equaling 20 percent of the school's full tuition cost for each child.
- More than 580 participating institutions also offer a program called Tuition Exchange, which is a reciprocal scholarship program for children and other family members of faculty and staff employed at these institutions. The Tuition Exchange, Inc. is a non-profit association serving higher education by making careers at colleges and universities more attractive. Let's say you worked at Marymount University in Arlington, VA, and your child wanted to attend Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA. Your child could attend Mount Holyoke or 578 other institutions at no additional cost or at a significantly reduced rate if he or she is accepted. Learn more about this program here: TuitionExchange.
Time OffIn the corporate world you are lucky to get more than two (maybe three) weeks off a year, in addition to the standard holidays. In higher education, you can feel your blood pressure dropping as you get more time off to relax
- Morehead State University in Morehead, KY, provides employees with paid time off for spring break week (five days), Thanksgiving break (three days) and Christmas break (six days), in addition to other standard holidays throughout the year.
- Several schools, including North Harris Montgomery Community College, provide the option for non-faculty employees to receive Fridays off during summer hours -- with the employee simply extending their Monday through Thursday work hours.
- Calvin College encourages service and allows employees to offer assistance to the community. With approval, employees can take days off with pay to provide consulting services to companies and non-profits in need.
Child CareInterested in having the kids participate in summer camps this year? What about child care close to work?
- The College of Southern Maryland in La Plata, MD, offers Kids' College and Teen College summer youth programs for ages 7 and older, as well as an onsite children's learning center for year-round care with programs such as a reptile show, campus parades, and carnivals that encourage participation during the day by employee parents. The summer camps are especially attractive for employees who receive free tuition for their dependents. Some examples of past camps include: Land and Sea Adventure, The World of Theatre for Kids, Summer Band Festival, Fine Art Photography, and Creative Computer Workshops.
- Elgin Community College in Elgin, IL, provides onsite high-quality, convenient and affordable child care to employees with children ages 6 weeks through 5 years. "It's comforting to know that my baby is right next door, and in the hands of long-standing, dedicated employees of the college, says HRIS Analyst Kristin Richmond. "I visit my baby on lunch hours, and look forward to catching glimpses of him riding around campus in the 'bye-bye buggy.'" The center is directed by 19-year employee Lisa Johnson, who can often be heard telling people that she has "the best job on campus." She goes on to say "I have everything I need within reach to provide a home for these children, including food service, campus police and access to student workers who help keep ratios low. This is a community."
TransportationIs your commute long or congested? Want an easier way to get to work?
- Many colleges and universities, such as Red River College, provide a free carpool matching service to those wishing to improve their transportation options.
- Marymount University helps employees defray the cost of public transportation by providing bus and subway passes and payment of parking lot fees on a payroll pre-tax basis. Marymount also offers employees a free shuttle to avoid the hassles of parking in an urban area.
HousingSometimes housing costs alone can deter a prospective employee from living close to work. Housing-related benefits are no longer reserved just for the president.
- Indiana Wesleyan University provides up to $5,000 toward the down payment or home improvements for qualifying homes around the Marion, IN, campus. Home improvements are reimbursed at 50 percent up to $5,000.
- Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA, partners with a local non-profit organization, Coastal Housing Partnership, to provide financial assistance which can significantly reduce the down payment and the closing costs associated with purchasing a home. The program also partners with local landlords to offer discounts off the market rate for rental properties.
RetirementHigher education is not known for paying at the top of the compensation scale compared to other industries. But where it lacks in competitive pay, it makes up for in the fringe benefits, such as retirement funding. Indiana Wesleyan University, for example, contributes 12 percent of the employee's annual pay into a retirement plan without requiring any employee contribution.
Many times, the benefits don't stop when you retire from a position in higher education. You can continue to reap the benefits of your tenure at the college in many ways. Great examples are the benefits offered to retirees at Kirkwood Community College:
- Continued use of its EagleCard, which allows retirees a discount at the Kirkwood Bookstore, admittance to Johnson Hall Gymnasium, Recreation Center, and the Kirkwood Library, to purchase a Kirkwood campus parking permit, and admittance to Kirkwood-sponsored activities such as plays, concerts, and athletic events.
- Staff Development and Wellness activities are available to retirees' free-of-charge.
- Retirees enjoy tuition-free credit and non-credit courses. Dependents can also receive tuition benefits. They may also participate on college committees.
- Retirees can remain on the Kirkwood group health, dental and/or vision plans at their own expense until age 65, unless the retiree becomes Medicare-eligible or accepts other full-time employment with paid health-insurance benefits.
- Spouses and/or dependent children who were covered on the health, dental and/or vision plans on the retiree's last date of employment are also eligible to remain on a family contract, at the retiree's expense, until the retiree comes off the plan at age 65, becomes Medicare-eligible, or dies.
Deirdre Honner, manager of employment services at Calvin College, sums it up best, "Working in higher education, and Calvin College in particular, is the best employment possible! Not only does our work matter, supporting those who are teaching the next generation, but the work-life integration is wonderful. We have great benefits, terrific colleagues, and amazing perks. In addition to all the benefits, we have access to speakers and concerts on campus, movies, the gym, several cafeterias, a coffee kiosk and chapel every day. Our turnover is very low compared to industry, and we attribute that to the work environment and benefits!"
Working in higher education is hard to beat if quality of life is most important to you. If you are in the job market for a great job, don't forget to consider your local college or university -- you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that the perks may outweigh what is offered in the corporate world.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Tracy Williams is a human resources product manager at Datatel, Inc., in the Fort Wayne, IN, area.
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