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December 15, 2017

Shifting Family Structures Compel Tuition Benefits Review

The University is reviewing its tuition benefit for staff and faculty with an eye toward adjusting the policy for the first time since 1994, John Kozar, assistant vice chancellor for Benefits, told the University Senate’s benefits and welfare committee at its Dec. 6 meeting.

The current benefit offers Pitt tuition to full-time employees, their spouses or domestic partners and their dependent children, as well as to part-time staff members. “It leaves a lot to be desired, because there are a lot of things that have changed,” Kozar noted.

The move to revise the policy was prompted by shifting structures and definitions of marriage and family in America, he said, resulting in new ways children are, or are not, deemed dependents of their parents. Kozar added that the new policy must also take into account shifts in Pitt’s delineation of part-time employees and must deal with educational offerings unavailable in 1994, such as online classes.

Pitt’s tuition benefit differs only slightly between staff and faculty, but the former is administered by the Office of Human Resources’ benefits department and the latter by the Office of Faculty Records. Together, administrators from these offices plan to submit an updated policy for review by other departments and University committees in 2018.

Among the questions the revised policy will address:

What is an eligible dependent child?
Currently, dependent children are defined as the natural, adopted or stepchildren listed as dependents on an employee’s IRS tax form. But the IRS itself has “pages and pages” of definitions for dependent children, Kozar noted, which may help to further refine Pitt’s designations.

Who are the parents of dependent children?
Kozar cited just one example of the many complex situations his office often encounters: A parent may seek the tuition benefit after their divorce decree stipulates that they must pay for their children’s education. If that same divorce decree gives primary custody of the children to the other parent, who is not employed by Pitt, those children are not officially dependents, leaving the Pitt employee ineligible for the tuition benefit.

“You look at strict enforcement, you’d say that person is not covered,” Kozar said. “But then you look at the issue of fairness. We do try to apply fairness to everything we do. We made a decision a while back — show me where you claimed your child as a dependent in a prior year and we’ll honor it.”

Kozar hopes that these and other questions created in the 23 years since the tuition benefit was last codified can be answered by more specific language in the revised rules.

While few changes have been decided, he said, the University may do away with the six-month waiting period for new staff members to become eligible for the tuition benefit, but will likely continue to restrict the benefit to part-time staff members alone, without making their spouses or dependent children eligible.

“Everything will be reviewed,” Kozar concluded. “We want to make sure we’re considering everything we need to consider before it is revised.”


Marty Levine,, 412-758-4859


Filed under: Feature,Volume 50 Issue 9

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