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Are Faculty Children Scholarships Really Worth It?

In my last post I asked why Cornell tuition dollars are going to pay Harvard tuition via the Cornell child student tuition scholarship program. Longtime MetaEzra fan SJ wrote in suggesting that the reasons were purely to retain faculty among stiff competition:

The thinking behind the benefit from its origins has been this: Talented faculty, while well paid, earn much less than those with comparable educations who go into business, law, medicine, etc. Faculty need to make their peace with the idea that the life of the mind means you don't have the cars and trips and wardrobe of your lawyer and executive and banker friends. But the area where faculty have traditionally wanted absolute top dollar is kids' tuition. So this was seen as way to do that.

He also pointed us to a recent article by the Daily Pennsylvanian on similar benefits across top schools. But it doesn't appear as Harvard reciprocates...

Another peer institution, Vanderbilt University, was the first college to be recognized last year by CNN Money’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” primarily because of its tuition program. Children of Vanderbilt employees get a 70-percent tuition subsidy at any college in the country.

“It’s something that keeps me there,” said Vanderbilt lecturer Rachel Chiguluri, a mother of two children under 10 years old.

So Cornell actually seems to be quite the penny pincher relative to schools like Vanderbilt.

But the bigger question is whether or not top university, like Cornell, and others, should really be in the business of subsidizing their employee's children's higher education. SJ suggested it was a nice gesture to keep professors from being jealous of the doctor, lawyer, and banker friends, but those professions don't get summers off, tenure, and paid sabbaticals. Additionally, many professors no doubt have friends in many underpaid jobs, like the foreign service, the federal judiciary, teaching, journalism, or non-profit work. Not to mention their part-time adjunct friends who get absolutely no benefits.

You also have to ask how big the impact of this program really might be. Research that I did as an undergraduate shows that increasing a professor's salary by $10,000 a year might lower their probability of leaving by 0.7 percent in any given year. And the imputed value of the scholarship programs might be equal to $4,000 a year, lowering the probability by 0.3 percent.

What does that mean at Cornell with a campus of 1600 faculty? That the program might keep an additional 5 faculty in Ithaca every year.

It might be cheaper and more effective to just give those faculty raises if they get a better offer somewhere else. And then Cornell wouldn't have to face the prospect of giving a dollar to the folks in Harvard Square.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on January 26, 2011 (#)

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