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Cornell Children's Tuition Redux

A couple of quick follow-ups on the dialogue we had last week on whether or not Cornell's policy of subsidizing tuition for children of staff is a good one. First, DLD writes in to remind us that the policy is for all staff children, not just faculty:

There is some thought over the years that these sorts of benefits is what keep lower paid staff in their jobs to offset the low pay with benefits for their children. And it would be interesting to see how many other universities pay Cornell tuition.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, most children of low-paying staff would probably receive a full-ride based on financial need. So it's really more of a benefit to mid and high-level staff and faculty, not the janitors or the cooks.

Secondly, longtime MetaEzra reader and budding academic economist AB writes in to say that higher salaries would be a much better option from the perspective of efficiency and fairness.

The benefit is likely economically inefficient. It creates a perverse incentive of having more children or (more realistically) sending children to more expensive schools than students or faculty would otherwise be willing to pay for. And again, Cornell doesn't benefit from having a faculty member's kid go to BU instead of CUNY.

That being said, the only reason I can think of to continue this is if there is some psychological attachment to the benefit that causes faculty to overvalue it to the extent it makes up for the perverse incentives. Otherwise, show them the money!

Your article suggests we might consider dropping the policy of reimbursing faculty for their childrens' educational expenses, full stop. I wouldn't want to weigh in on the matter of faculty compensation (which is a separate discussion), but I think we would agree that whatever limited resources Cornell spends to recruit and retain faculty should be spent efficiently, and I see no reason that should include tuition reimbursements rather than higher pay.

To be fair, I did explicitly target Harvard in the earlier posts, because, well, it makes a better headline. But all college tuition is subsidized under the plan, from Princeton on down to TC3. And the publics and community colleges are known for not providing a lot of need-based financial aid.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on February 02, 2011 (#)

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