By Alicia Otto
To say that academia is important in Sybil Hillyard’s family is an understatement. Hillyard’s father has two degrees from Missouri Western State University. Her mother has two master’s degrees and is a full-time instructor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. Her sister has a degree in mechanical engineering.
Instead of being intimidated by all that parchment, Hillyard is determined.
Hillyard may have “done things backwards” by having kids first and then concentrating on school, but she is determined to get it done. She is determined to prove to her kids that getting your degree is important.
Some students in your class may also be the same people assisting you in a campus office—Sybil Hillyard is just one Missouri Western employee also doing double duty as a student.
Western’s program and benefits
These non-traditional students are taking advantage of an employee benefit sometimes referred to as the employee tuition reduction program. Many colleges and universities offer these programs as benefits of employment. Missouri Western offers one of the best employee tuition reduction programs when compared to Truman State University and Northwest Missouri State University.
Missouri Western State University reimburses current, full-time benefit-eligible employees at the rate of 100 percent for tuition costs. Employees complete a tuition fee waiver which must be approved by their supervisor. Employees who cease employment at Missouri Western mid-semester must reimburse the university.
Similar to other programs, the employee is responsible for any and all fees associated with taking classes. So, even though Missouri Western pays for all of the tuition, those classes are far from free. For example, an employee taking an introductory psychology course wouldn’t have to pay the $593.77 in tuition but would still have to come up with the $200.70 in fees (Max Experience, SGA, program fees, etc.). Missouri Western Staff Association President Tara Stoll believes in the benefits of the program.
“Overall, our employees are very fortunate to have the Tuition Waiver option, and many have taken advantage of it over the years,” Stoll said. “Education is expensive, period. And Missouri Western tries very hard to make it affordable.” Having that benefit is a consideration for potential employees.
“The tuition reduction program was a factor in applying for a position at Missouri Western for me and my kids,” Hillyard said. After getting hired at Missouri Western, Hillyard waited a year before registering for a class to see what interested her.
At Northwest Missouri State University, employees must have been employed by Northwest at least part-time in a regular position at least one year on the first day of class in order to take advantage of the program. After an employee has met those requirements, he or she receives a fee reduction of 100 percent. That fee reduction applies only toward Northwest tuition. Employees are responsible for technology, textbook and any other fees. If an employee ends employment or withdraws before the end of an enrolled trimester, the employee must reimburse Northwest the full amount of any fee reduction received that trimester.
Truman State University offers a tuition fee discount to current officers and full-time employees of the university. The employee or officer must have been hired prior to Sept. 1, 2012 to qualify, and are accorded a 75 percent reduction in enrollment fees for regular on-campus classes for academic credit. New full-time employees, hired after Sept. 1, 2012, must be employed by the university for one year before they qualify for the 75 percent tuition reduction. Truman State University also requires employees to cover any and all fees associated with the classes for which they are enrolled.
The most current numbers available for Missouri Western State University, Northwest Missouri State University and Truman State University are reflected in the following chart
Northwest Missouri State University led the researched universities with 42 employees attending classes. Missouri Western State University currently has 38 employees registered. Truman State University only has five employees currently registered.
Christina Lund is currently the administrative coordinator for the School of Fine Arts at Missouri Western State University. Lund is scheduled to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in communications. Dr. Bob Willenbrink is Lund’s supervisor and the Founding Dean of the School of Fine Arts.
According to the rules of the employee tuition reduction program at Missouri Western, Willenbrink must approve the classes that his employees attend. Willenbrink has absolutely no problem with Lund taking classes.
“Her classes never interfered with her job at all,” Willenbrink said. Working together they have always found a way to work things out so her studies would not interfere.
“We have worked together on times and scheduling, so I feel like that has contributed a little to her success,” Willenbrink said.
He also expressed how proud he was of her and will be the first to cheer her success.
“I feel the knowledge she gains contributes to her work and in turn enhances the work of the School of Fine Arts,” Willenbrink said.
Lund feels the same way.
“I greatly appreciate the working environment and the camaraderie in the School of Fine Arts,” Lund said.
The wonderful tuition reduction partnership at Western has been beneficial to Lund in her “second attempt” at college. Her intention is to remain at Missouri Western after receiving her degree.
“Our university is a community in and of itself,” Lund said. “I love supporting our arts programming, sports teams, philanthropic efforts and the overall planning for the future.”
Employee dependent benefit
In addition to the tuition waiver for employees, spouses and qualified dependents are eligible for an 80 percent reduction of undergraduate in-state and dual credit courses. The employees are still responsible for any and all fees associated with the classes their spouses and dependents take.
“The administration knows that investing in our employees and their families is important, and education is the most powerful investment that can be made,” Stoll said. “The Tuition Waiver program is definitely a benefit for our employees’ dependents, as well. I would absolutely send my children to Missouri Western if the fit was right.”
The benefit for dependents was a consideration when Lund’s youngest daughter was considering which college to attend.
“Both of my daughters considered Missouri Western,” Lund said. Even though the tuition waiver was not a factor when Lund’s oldest daughter was ready for college, it was an option for her youngest. Even though both chose other universities, they still have a strong dedication to Western.
“We appreciated the opportunity of the tuition reduction program when she (Lund’s youngest daughter) was home last summer and took a course that would transfer,” Lund said. She remains hopeful that one day there is a tuition agreement between the Missouri colleges and universities for their employees’ dependents.
It’s never too late
As the Administrative Assistant in the Department of Engineering Technology at Missouri Western, Hillyard is on track to complete her bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a minor in business, in 2019. Hillyard, 42, encourages her fellow employees to take advantage of the benefit, regardless of their age or current status.
“It’s never too late,” Hillyard said.
On her journey toward her degree, Hillyard has had several starts and stops and semesters of six to nine credit hours. Hillyard plans to continue working at Missouri Western after receiving her degree.
“I love my job and can’t imagine working anywhere other than academia,” Hillyard said. “Now that I have been here (Western), I love helping students succeed and seeing what they choose to do after their experiences here at MWSU.”