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Why Is Cornell Paying Harvard Tuition?

One of the things I was most surprised at by Cornell's response to its yawning deficit situation was that employee benefits were held relatively intact. Sure, there was a pay freeze, hiring pause, and mass layoffs, but Cornell didn't have to resort to some of the things that corporate America did over the last couple of years, like cut back on retirement contributions or across the board pay cuts, etc.

It's even more surprising given just how generous some of Cornell's benefits are, especially when it comes to tuition assistance for the children of Cornell employees. Most everybody knows (one) of the benefits of being progeny of faculty: full or half price tuition, depending on their parents hiring date. You might think of that as 'free' for the University to provide, but it actually represents forgone tuition dollars. Think about it: it's not as if Cornell doesn't have 30,000 other students they could admit with equally high SAT scores.

But did you know that children of employees who go to schools other than Cornell... say Harvard or Princeton or Williams, also get a full 30 percent of their tuition paid for by Uncle Ezra. It's right here in the description of the Cornell Child Tuition Scholarship (CCTS) program:

CCTS pays 30% of the outside schoolís tuition and fees. The minimum benefit amount is full tuition or $1,000 per academic year, whichever is less.

If the outside schoolís tuition is greater than Cornellís endowed tuition and fees, CCTS will pay 30% of Cornellís endowed tuition and administrative fees.

No benefits are paid for graduate study at other institutions.

It's possible that I'm missing something here, but some conversations I've had with Cornell employees suggest that this program is as good as it sounds: If your child gets into Harvard (or Princeton), Cornell will pay up to ~ $15k a year to help educate her. That's a $60k benefit to employees -- or more if you have multiple children.

What makes the policy seem particularly egregious is that it seems to benefit well-paid professors the most. Mid-level staff members at Cornell would certainly be in an income bracket to have their student qualify for a free ride at Harvard (or Duke). But a family with two full professors making a quarter million dollars a year would benefit richly. Which is exactly the opposite of what I suggested a couple of years back when I proposed that faculty had to help bear the pain of the Great Recession.

It would be interesting to find out how much Cornell pays for this benefit on an annual basis. Meanwhile, the Theatre department has been lobotomized and the Education department dismantled, whittling down the educational opportunities for Cornell students.

And, for those wondering, a cursory search of Harvard's benefits policies shows that the Cantabrigians are not reciprocal in their tuition support to Cornell.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on January 24, 2011 (#)

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