State workers get tuition break at university centers

The Board of Regents recently changed one of its policies to allow state employees a 50 percent cut in tuition for classes at university centers.

Previously, the tuition benefit applied to state employees living in South Dakota who had been working for the state for at least a year, but it only allowed them to pay reduced tuition for classes on a public university campus. According to director of communications for the Board of Regents Janelle Tolman, the new benefit extends the cost reduction to university center classes as well. Tolman said the benefit now cuts university center tuition costs by about $67 per credit hour for undergraduate students and $101 per credit hour for graduate students.

SDSU journalism instructor Terry Harris said university centers provide opportunities for non-traditional students or anyone out of high school to receive an education that appeals to that type of student.

“The hope is that it will open up opportunities for more state employees to take classes and knock down barriers there,” said Director of Marketing, Communication and Special Projects at the Sioux Falls University Center Jennie Doyen. 

University centers offer classes once or twice during the week at nights, which is optimal for students working full time who also want to earn a degree, according to Harris. 

“Many students, after a number of years, are going back to school and working towards a degree, while working full time,” Harris said.

Qualifying individuals must be in a benefit-eligible category, work half time or more, and have been employed by and live in the state for at least one continuous year. 

According to Tolman, the BOR tried to approach the legislature about making this change, with no progress. This time, the BOR decided to look at its own policies — such as what rates apply where. State employees can apply to coursework a 50 percent break on tuition per credit up to six credits per semester. Students still pay full fees, but the actual price per credit hour is reduced.

“It is a pretty important change,” Doyen said. “Looking at the government as a whole, a lot of employees are located in these urban areas and it really opens up employee benefits to more people in terms of access.” 

It is estimated that 41 percent of all state employees — a total of more than 5,100 — live in the three counties where the university centers are located: Hughes, Minnehaha, and Pennington.

“We think that for many employees who don’t live in or near a city with a university campus that qualifies for a break, [extending tuition deduction to university centers] will open up opportunities for state employees to pursue further education, retrain or further their degree,” Tolman said.

The Summer 2013 term is when the tuition deduction changes go into effect. One thing to keep in mind is that the tuition reduction doesn’t apply to Internet courses.