Proposed bill would offer faculty benefits
State Sen. John Edwards introduces legislation to subsidize education of university professorsí dependents, attract faculty
A Virginia lawmaker is pushing for legislation which aims to retain university professors in Virginia by offering a 50 percent in-state tuition reduction to dependents of public university faculty.
State Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, introduced the bill earlier this month on behalf of the Faculty Senate of Virginia, which represents university and college faculty in the commonwealth. It would require the state to finance the discount through the creation of the Dependent Children of University and College Faculty Reduced Tuition Fund in the state treasury.
Edwards said the bill aims to encourage retention and recruitment of top faculty at public institutions of higher education in Virginia and likened the benefit to a scholarship. Faculty members would have to have worked at least seven years at any public college or university in the commonwealth for their children to receive the tuition discount.
Full-time students who are dependents under the age of 21 would receive subsidized education until they are 25 years old or until they reach 120 credits, the number of credits required to graduate at the University.
Edwards said this initiative would act as "inducement and a thank you to faculty members for their services," as well as an acknowledgement on behalf of the universities that "we know we're not paying you as much as we should."
The University has been criticized for failing to increase faculty salaries during the past four years.
Susan Carkeek, the University's vice president and chief of human resources, acknowledged the problem, noting that the University has "lost a lot of ground in the last few years with no salary increases."
Carkeek declined to comment on the pending Senate legislation, but she acknowledged the need to change the current situation.
"Getting our faculty compensation to be more competitive has been and is a high priority," she said. "We have a long way to go before we can catch up."
Edwards said he is in favor of both raising faculty salaries and offering a discounted tuition to children of faculty, but voiced doubts about the state's ability to sustain both proposals at once given its tight budget.
"Faculty are certainly entitled to a significant increase in pay, but that's not happening given the budget constraints," Edwards said. "Because we're not able to provide them with the raises they're entitled to, this is something that we ought to do a lot easier."
The cost of offering the tuition reduction would be minimal - about $2 million, Edwards said. Gov. Bob McDonnell's recommended budget allocates $100 million per year to higher education.
He is confident the General Assembly would be able to fund this expenditure. "If you raise the salaries across the board it's a whole lot more expensive," Edwards said.
This is not the first time such a bill has been introduced in the Senate. In 2008, Edwards advanced the bill, but it died following concern about the source of the funding.
James Lollar, president of the Faculty Senate of Virginia, said the idea for the bill was first developed in 2006 when the Faculty Senate recognized that when deciding whether or not to stay at an institution, faculty members consider not only the salary but also the total benefits package.
"We would love increased salaries," Lollar said. "We're also realists."
Lollar added that being competitive in benefits packages is necessary "in order to keep the best faculty."
The bill has been referred to the Senate Education and Health Sub-Committee for Higher Education. If approved, it will move to the House of Delegates.