Staff members can advance their education at a discounted rate

Debbie Williamson Smith and her dog, Pippa, in graduation gear

One of the perks of working for the University of Oregon is reduced tuition for undergraduate or advanced classes that can lead to a degree.

The benefit of paying 30 percent of residence undergraduate tuition can greatly reduce costs, but the caveat is that classes must be taken while staff members are employed.

“Work flexibility is key to taking classes; I sometimes have to work late to accommodate special projects,” said Cimmeron Gillespie, a program representative in the Office of Sustainability who hopes to graduate in three more years. “I am taking one course at a time, which allows me to focus and engage with course material more substantively.”

Many people are seeking new opportunities after self-reflection during the pandemic lockdown. Being immersed in the educational experience surrounded by enthusiastic students may have employees ready to hit the books.

Supervisor approval and support is an important part of the process. Many of the classes and projects that Debbie Williamson-Smith took directly related to her job as the communications manager for the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

“I am better at my job because of being a college student and working with them and realizing what they go through,” she said.

Williamson-Smith earned a bachelor’s in arts administration from the College of Design, Class of 2019.

“The tuition benefit is a great way to engage with students and with policy solutions together,” Gillespie said. “It is a great opportunity for staff to deepen our education as individuals and improve our skills as professionals.”

Spencer Smith — no relation to Debbie — is a financial aid counselor and working toward an MBA. He works full time and attends class part time, typically during lunch or in the evenings after work.

“It makes for long days, but I believe it is worth it,” Smith said. "I am preparing myself for the future and learning valuable skills that help me perform better in my current job. I am grateful that the University of Oregon prioritizes continuing education and allows staff and faculty to seek a degree with a sizeable discount. Without the tuition benefit, I would not be able to obtain my graduate degree.”

Williamson-Smith said academic advisers were very helpful at figuring out what credits transferred and scheduling classes around work. The deadline for staff members to submit employee staff tuition forms is two days prior to the start of classes, but having a well-thought-out plan is recommended.

Eligible staff members also can transfer their benefit to their children or spouse so they can attend a public state university in Oregon. Refer to the HR staff tuition benefit webpage for qualifications, forms and FAQs. Certain programs and work classes are excluded from the benefit. Courses also can be audited on a space-available basis with instructor approval.

In addition, employees with a 0.5 FTE or greater can also use the Professional Development Opportunity Fund to expand their knowledge and skills. This fund provides up to $200 per term in financial assistance for staff development opportunities. Professional development supported by this fund must be work related and benefit both the employee and the university. Refer to the HR website for more information and further guidance.

“If you are thinking of going back to school or finishing your degree, do it!” Smith said.

—By Jennifer Archer, University Communications