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Staff Council hears updates on professional development, tuition benefit

Staff Council hears updates on professional development, tuition benefit, a learning website that features educational videos on a variety of topics, is closer to being accessible to more CU campuses and staff members, something the University of Colorado Staff Council (UCSC) has pushed for as it examines professional development opportunities at the university.

Kathy Nesbitt, vice president of Employee and Information Services, told the council during its Nov. 19 meeting at 1800 Grant St. that the opportunity to expand the existing contract now depends on individual budgets for each campus. Currently, anyone affiliated with the Boulder campus – including students – has access to the site’s videos for free.  

Nesbitt also updated the council on other items of interest to staff members. She said conversations continue about a more consistent tuition benefit across campuses. Because each campus is accredited differently and operates independently, including the way dollars are budgeted, finding a one-size-fits-all solution has been elusive.

“If it was just a dollar issue, we could recommend that we skinny up the benefit – say two credit hours – and everyone could use it,” Nesbitt said. But the issue is more complex, especially with expected cuts in state funding in the coming years. If the tuition benefit is boosted systemwide, she said, it’s likely that another benefit would have to be reduced.

The Board of Regents’ Laws and Policies Committee has asked that the articles that govern the entire CU system be reviewed. Governance groups, including UCSC, will be involved in the review and revision process, which is expected to take anywhere from 18 months to two years. Nesbitt said such a comprehensive review has not been performed for several years and the process will be similar to the way the university has reviewed its own Administrative Policy Statements.

Tony DeCrosta, chief plan administrator at the University of Colorado Health and Welfare Trust, gave an overview of health insurance plans available to CU employees. Currently, the plans cover about 63,000 lives. Given the size of the plans, he said, the Trust is able to negotiate good prices on benefits. The Trust also includes University of Colorado Hospital and University Physicians Inc., so that decisions on benefits and other plan options must be approved by all the partners.

“Because we aren’t one single employer, we don’t have the same nimbleness” when it comes to adding benefits or changing premiums, for instance, he said.

The Trust was formed in 2010. Because the plans are self-funded – essentially meaning insurance company fees have been cut out of the process – CU has saved about $42 million, which has been passed down to members in the form of lower premiums or better benefits.

Because the Trust is liable for all its members, a wellness program has been an important part of the plans.

“The healthier we are, the cheaper it is for us. Some health issues can be avoided, and less expensive insurance rates should be an incentive for all of us to improve our health,” DeCrosta said. He added that, in general, the Trust is on the leading edge in terms of value of benefits offered.

He acknowledged that insurance plans can be hard to understand and the Trust is developing consumer tools to help people make sense of the plans and choose the type of plan that is best for them.

The council’s third guest of the day was Regent Kyle Hybl, chair of the board. He discussed the board’s mission and guiding principles and the university’s strategic priorities, which are student success, financial aid, research awards and other revenue.

“We want the university to reflect the communities in which we live,” he said, and with state funding for higher education dwindling, the university has dedicated more efforts to awarding scholarships – including more merit scholarships – to students. In addition, the regents’ diversity and inclusion initiative includes a pre-collegiate program to help increase retention on all campuses.

At the same time, Hybl said, the regents work to support the exceptional programs at the university, including engineering, aerospace and medical assets.

In other business at the council’s Nov. 19 meeting:

  • Todd Saliman, vice president and chief financial officer, reported to the Board of Regents that in the past fiscal year, $40 million in efficiencies were recorded systemwide. More than half of that amount -- $27 million – resulted from the switch to a single vendor for employee retirement plans.
  • A systemwide strategic plan on diversity and inclusion is moving forward and is currently being discussed by administration leaders. Nesbitt said the plan includes every discipline, from advancement to recruitment, and likely will be released soon.
  • UCSC has been authorized to conduct a systemwide employee survey to determine preferences concerning personal development opportunities, an anti-bullying policy and other issues of concern.
  • The new, streamlined nomination process for Service Excellence Awards will be rolled out in early December. The awards honor one person from each campus and system administration who has provided exemplary service to both the university and the community.