The independent news organization of Duke University

Health system decides not to extend tuition aid benefit to staff

Employee benefit packages change constantly; the companies that administer them regularly compare their offerings to those of their competitors and sometimes alter their programs based on marketplace trends. In keeping with the practices of similar institutions, the Health System will not offer new employees assistance with paying their children's college bills, while employees of the Medical Center and the University will retain this existing benefit.

Under the tuition aid benefit, University and Medical Center employees of more than five years may receive generous assistance in financing as many as eight semesters of any college's tuition for up to two children. They are eligible for refunds totaling 75 percent of Duke's undergraduate tuition-about $17,000 per year. Health System staff employed before Jan. 1 will also continue to receive this benefit, said Deborah Horvitz, director of communications and planning for human resources.

Executive Vice President Tallman Trask said that University faculty and Health System employees have different expectations from employers. Many universities offer tuition aid benefits to their academic faculty's dependents, but few health care providers give their employees such a bonus. Consequently, administrators decided that tuition aid was not needed to attract top personnel to the Health System, Horvitz said.

"We felt that we were competitive with or without [the tuition aid benefit]," she added.

Some faculty members say the tuition-aid benefit helped them decide to accept University jobs. Philip Morgan, professor of sociology, came to the University last year from the University of Pennsylvania, which also offers tuition-aid benefits. Morgan, who has three children, said that "it would've probably been difficult for me to consider moving somewhere without it."

Some staff at Durham Regional Hospital-who became Health System employees Jan. 1-said they were disappointed not to receive the tuition aid benefit. Bob DiFelice, senior administrative director of finance at Durham Regional, said he recognized the expense of such a program but he said that the boost in staff recruitment and retention might have outweighed the costs. "If you can cut your turnover rate to a reasonable number, you're saving a lot of money," he said.

DiFelice, who has a daughter at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, said the Health System may create recruitment problems if it scales back the benefits it offers.

Dixie Ray, a staff assistant at Durham Regional whose mother worked at Duke for over 30 years, said that without the tuition-aid program, she would not have been able to attend school.

"I don't believe I would've [received] this job had I not got my degree," she said. "It would be excellent if we had the opportunity to have that benefit here."

Ray added that many of the employees that she has spoken with wanted to receive the same tuition-aid benefit offered to their Medical Center colleagues. But others accept the fact that the marketplace does not guarantee health system employees such benefits.

Barbara Hinton, an administrative secretary in educational services, has a daughter at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. "I'd love the money, but I'm not upset," she said.