For Your Benefit: Riding the Waivers

Tuition discounts can add up to significant savings
on job-related courses.

Once Khadejia Bass toured the world as a back-up singer for music industry stars such as Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and Salt-n-Pepa. Bass is emphatic, though, that her current life at CUNY is riveting in its own way. She is an employee pursuing the degree she has wanted for years, something she might not have been able — or motivated — to do without a tuition-waiver benefit.

Khadejia Bass is pursuing a degree with the help of tuition waivers.

“My goal is to be a human resources generalist; the minimum requirement is a bachelor’s degree,” says the Information Technology Assistant, a Baruch junior.

Bass is one of many eligible employees who take advantage of the University’s tuition-waiver benefit. Eligibility is generally based on titles and on the amount of time an employee has worked at the University. In fiscal year 2011, CUNY provided its employees with $3.8 million in waivers and that amount is expected to grow to keep pace with tuition increases.

Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Management Gloriana Waters says that the CUNY employee tuition-waiver program is “one of the most significant benefits offered by the University. In financial terms, it translates to receiving [as much as] the equivalent of $5,250 per year, tax free if the courses are job-related. This benefit has enabled multitudes of CUNY employees to finish a degree, pursue a higher degree, or simply expand their educational horizons. As an advocate of lifelong learning, I can point to this program as one of the primary reasons that CUNY is a great place to work.”

In addition to Bass, another waiver beneficiary is Safia Mohammed, a Baruch College office assistant pursuing a Master of Science in Industrial Labor Relations. “One of the things that motivated me to enroll in this program was that I didn’t have to worry about expenses,” she says.

Marquita Ferguson, a CUNY office assistant who dreams of becoming a child psychologist, also uses the waivers. She has begun her path by matriculating for an undergraduate degree in English. “The fact that I don’t have to do this with loans is great,” she says.

Tuition waivers are only granted to CUNY employees attending CUNY schools for credit-bearing courses. More information is available from college human resources offices. Tuition-waiver application forms and specific eligibility requirements — for example, non-teaching adjuncts are not eligible — can also be accessed via “tuition waivers”.

This semester Khadejia Bass — who attends classes for two courses four evenings a week and works for the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) by day — had $1,350 worth of tuition waived. In the past, she worked as a human resources coordinator for Warner Music Group and endured nine months on unemployment before she was hired by CUNY. “When I went on the road, I promised my mother that someday I would finish my degree,” she says. She hopes to graduate in 2014. Both her parents are CUNY alums.

Before the start of a recent “Themes in American History” class, Bass said: “This course connects the dots for me . . . for business, for writing, for proposals and for the speeches I might have to write or make in the human resources field. It will help me to understand history and a diverse workforce. . . . Also, you might be sitting next to someone in class from a different culture or the next Facebook pioneer. And now you know that person as a peer.”
Bass reviewed her reading on the Southern Civil Rights Movement. Her teacher, assistant professor Johanna Fernandez, had just returned from a Washington, D.C., protest against the crisis of mass incarceration in the U.S. She spoke about related atrocities of the past, including the lynching of black men.

“What social and economic forces fueled the institution of lynching in the South?” asked Fernandez, who is also a well-known activist.

“Looking a white woman in the eye simply by walking by her could have led to one,” Bass said.
That evening she also learned about how the Holocaust and the Vietnam War related to the topic under discussion. The teacher, she said, “has a passion for history, and through her passion you are able to connect history to what is happening today.”

It had been a topnotch, challenging class that was even easier on her budget thanks to tuition waivers.