One of the advantages of being both a Principia employee and parent is the Tuition Discount Benefit, which can be applied to student tuition on the St. Louis and Elsah campuses. The Principia website briefly outlines the program, stating, “Most employees qualify for discounted tuition for children admitted to Principia at any academic level.” The discount often reaches 20 percent of the employee’s yearly salary. Under this system, parents who have higher annual salaries are eligible to receive a higher discount than those who have lower salaries. In other words, the more one makes, the more will be discounted from their child’s tuition.
This program is currently under review for a possible restructuring, according to Chief Financial Officer Douglas Gibbs. Gibbs said of the process, “We have taken some initial steps to begin reviewing the existing faculty-staff tuition discount benefit.” He explained, “While 20 percent of salary can be a substantial benefit towards tuition, there is concern that it may not be the best system for the future.”
Gibbs commented that his group was seeking out “ways to enhance the fairness of the system for all benefits-eligible employees.” Gibbs also stated that his group has yet to carry out extensive surveys of the tuition discount programs of other schools and colleges.
Director of Financial Aid Tami Gavaletz said that a faculty or staff member is eligible for this benefit once they have worked at Principia for five years. Although she did not create the policy, she administers it and works with parents who turn to financial aid even after receiving the benefit.
One of the perceived flaws of the benefit system is that it works in favor of those who make more than their colleagues, although those who make less are often the individuals most in need of financial support. Gavaletz said that financial aid is the last source of help that parents and students should turn to. She added that the benefit is applied to the parent’s oldest child, and it is easy for all of the benefit to be drained on one tuition. If any money is left over after this application, it is used for the next oldest child.
When only one parent is employed by Principia, 20 percent of their annual salary may be applied to their children’s tuitions, but this amount is not multiplied and applied to every student’s tuition. This scenario makes things difficult for families with more than one or two children.
Every parent interviewed expressed their gratitude for the tuition discount program and indicated that it had made a positive impact on their experience at Principia. Theater professor Chrissy Steele said that she and her husband both enjoy working for Principia and are very grateful for the Tuition Discount program. Her husband, Jeff Steele, who has been a visiting faculty over the past seven years and was only awarded the Tuition Discount Benefit this year, said that without the discount his wife receives, their family would be asking for a substantial increase in financial aid support to send their three children to Principia.
When asked for suggestions on how the policy could be improved, Steele said that he supported a pro rata distribution of funds for parents working for Principia, or even a reduction that is based on a percentage of the tuition rather than the employee’s paycheck. He said, “Everyone wants to keep their kids enrolled at Principia,” but indicated that at a certain point, some can no longer afford to do so. Steele cited professors who have moved to Webster Groves and Kirkwood near St. Louis to send their children to more affordable public schools. Steele suggested that Principia could help encourage faculty and staff struggling with tuition rates to keep their children enrolled at Principia by rethinking the structure of the tuition discount benefit.
English professor Heidi Snow commented that some schools and colleges provide a full tuition break for children of faculty and staff members, and said that Principia’s current reduction program is not applicable to room and board. It is true that tuition discount programs across the country run the gamut from providing full tuition to hardly any, but a model which could work for Principia is one that provides the same benefit to all of Principia’s parent-employees.