Report coming soon on how benefits compare to other universities

Results could help steer direction of tuition waiver program

A comprehensive report comparing benefits, including tuition waivers, at comparable-sized universities around the nation will be released within a month, allowing the university to determine how competitive it is, said E. Jill Pollock, senior associate vice president and chief human resources officer, at the University of Colorado Staff Council's Sept. 2 meeting.

Tuition waivers are used at each campus but university employees say that restrictions can discourage and sometimes impede their chances of attending classes. Discussions of possible changes to the waiver plan have been ongoing for several months.

Staff Council will make tuition waivers one of its focus points this year, and Co-chair Lori Krug said she has approached the Faculty Council in an effort to join forces in order to try to improve benefits for employees.

Larry Drees, chair of the University Benefits Advisory Board (UBAB), said tuition benefits used to be limited to six credit hours, but after surveying other institutions, the general consensus placed CU on the lower end of the spectrum compared to other universities.

"We used to have more limitations about what we could do for employees because they looked like perks," Drees said, "and state statutes limit what you can do. We worked with legislators to get some flexibility."

Once flexibility was granted, it was recommended that the number of credit hours allowed for waivers be increased to nine hours and allow dependents to participate.

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is concluding a two-year pilot program that allows dependents to use the waivers. A report on the program's results should be released in a few weeks.

"I don't think there's any ... reason why we would not offer benefits to dependents," Pollock said. "The big deal is how we cost it - how we make it fair."

One of the challenges of the waiver benefits is that enrollees often must wait to register until a day before classes begin. Also, the Denver campus is overwhelmed with participants because it offers more convenient evening classes. Supervisors also have offered varying degrees of support to employees depending on whether classes are considered job-related.

The outside firm conducting the over-arching study also will compare other employee benefits and perks offered at peer universities around the nation.

In other matters, Drees discussed the University of Colorado Health and Welfare Trust, the administrator of the university's self-funded health insurance plans. He said most employees shouldn't notice much change because of the recent transition to a self-funded system, although "there have been a few hiccups" in the way some people obtain maintenance drugs.

Pollock said 97 percent of public employers similar in size to the university are self-funded. Several years ago the institution attempted to self-fund its insurance plans without success.

"We have an incredible number of controls in place," Pollock said. "And something that we are going to do that we weren't able to do before is tell you how we are doing."

She said the plan allows the university to be transparent, including making public the amount of revenue that employee premiums have generated and what is being spent. The trust has reserved funds for high-dollar events - premature births, for instance - but the plan also contains a built-in, 2 percent reserve to deal with the unforeseen.

Self-funding also allows the university insurance plans to be tailored to meet the needs of employees, which in turn can save money for participants in the form of lower premium.

The university will make employee health a priority and will begin by rolling out a computer-based "health risk assessment" in January that will encourage employees to improve their health agenda. The university also will offer campus-based grants to develop and test health programs.

Lastly, Staff Council members discussed their annual retreat, scheduled for October. During the event, members determine agenda items for the upcoming year and participate in training and team building.