Pay raises, tuition benefit in spotlight at Staff Council meeting

Group also hears updates on state budget, CU Advocates program

Members of the University of Colorado Staff Council met last week for a mostly information meeting at the University of Colorado Denver where they heard updates on the merit pay system, the CU Advocates program, state funding  for higher education, and Boulder’s administrative leave policy that addresses school and volunteer activities.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget recommendations for 2013-14 include pay changes for classified employees. The governor asked for a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and a pool of funds equivalent to 1.5 percent of payroll to reward top performers. (The Joint Budget Committee later recommended that the COLA increase be 2 percent.)  The state also wants to ensure that employee salaries are at least in the minimum range of the prevailing market.

“Once you are at market pay, if you are a competent performer, than you are being paid appropriately for your job,” said E. Jill Pollock, vice president for employee and information services. Extraordinary performances would be eligible for merit increase pay that may or may not add to base-building pay.

While the university isn’t required to follow the state’s merit plan if approved by the legislature, Pollock said, “We are choosing to follow it because we think it’s a good one. This will be the first time classified staff have received an increase in four years.”

Pollock also discussed tuition benefit recommendations that were received from staff and faculty councils. Both councils said improvements to the benefit might include:

  • A 50 percent discount on tuition for employees and dependents up to 18 hours of credit, or alternatively, to increase the number of waived hours to 12 each year. (The current benefit is nine hours.) In addition, Boulder campus benefits should apply to any time of the year, regardless of full- or part-time status.
  • Allowing employees and dependents to register before the first day of classes
  • Allowing the benefit to be used at continuing education or other higher ed institutions
  • Allowing dependents to use benefits at any CU campus

Staff council also recommended: fees charged for taking classes be eliminated, some extended study programs be included in the program, other family members (besides dependents) be allowed to use the benefit and unused credits be allowed to roll over.

Faculty council also suggested that when both parents are employed by CU, a single dependent could use both benefits or up to 18 credits per year, and dependents could use the credits toward graduate-level courses. (Currently, only employees can use the credits for those classes.)

Pollock said she will talk with university financial officers in March about the benefit, and acknowledged that some proposals, including offering discounted fees for classes, are a possible discussion point.

She said a total compensation package for employees -- usually salary and benefits -- might also include other rewards, especially professional development, including tuition benefits. “There’s no reason why we couldn’t differentiate ourselves by being the learning institution for employees as well as students.”

One impediment to enhanced benefits is a tight budget as the state continues to face funding challenges. The state is experiencing declining revenue and increasing costs, said Todd Saliman, vice president and chief financial officer for the university. That means funding for all categories – including higher education – is at risk.

Currently, 5.3 percent of CU’s budget comes from the state, an amount that most likely will decrease in coming years. A University of Denver study painted a bleak picture of future funding and an upcoming CU study likely will reach the same conclusions, he said.

“We get less money than our peers and that has made it challenging for us. Because state support is inadequate, it pushes the burden to tuition.”

Twenty years ago, students and families paid one-third the cost of tuition with state funding making up the remainder. Today, the numbers are reversed.

Not everyone understands the value the university brings to the state, Michele McKinney told the group. McKinney is the external affairs and advocacy director for the university. She oversees the year-and-a-half old CU Advocates program, which works to educate residents about the contributions CU makes to the state, nation and world. Currently, 2,100 volunteers – 1,600 in Colorado – participate in the program.

The university is one of the largest employers in the state, brings in millions of dollars of research funding, produces 60 percent of all graduate work in Colorado, and promotes educational opportunities through financial aid -- $600 million last year.

Staff council also heard from Pakou Cha, the manager of the Office of Labor Relations on the Boulder campus, concerning employee volunteer leave.

At several previous meetings, the council had discussed conducting a systemwide service project but discovered that not all campuses provide volunteer leave opportunities for staff.

Cha said state personnel board rules allow the appointing authority to grant administrative leave for reasons deemed good for the state. The Boulder campus has determined that parental assistance in school activities (including parent-teacher conferences) and volunteer work fit the category. Classified employees receive up to 18 hours per year of leave, with 16 of those being paid leave.

Colorado Springs does not grant leave for volunteer work, and both system administration and Denver/Anschutz campus employees are allowed to take a smaller number of hours for service opportunities.

At an upcoming meeting, staff council will discuss whether to push for a consistent university policy regarding paid volunteer hours.