Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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Benefit Helps Employees Enhance Their Education

At the end of September, Terence Coleman achieved a goal he set years ago: He became a college graduate. A University of Virginia Copy Center supervisor, Coleman credits the University’s education benefit for making it possible.

Human Resources introduced the education benefit in 2008, a year after Coleman came to the University. He said he recalls thinking, “It’s a gift that has been given to us.”

Now Coleman, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Averett University, is planning to pursue an MBA.

“I’m surprised more people aren’t taking advantage of this opportunity,” he said.

Already about 2,800 employees have taken advantage of this benefit since it was first offered.  Coleman is actively championing the education benefit, encouraging three of his co-workers to enroll.

“Greater employee engagement, enhanced professional capabilities and improved performance are just a few of the benefits the University hoped to provide its employees when the program was established four years ago,” said Susan Carkeek, vice president and chief human resources officer.

In addition to the thousands of free training sessions and development programs already offered through Employee Development, all full- and part-time employees with one year in a benefits-eligible position can use up to $2,000 per calendar year for academic, vocational or professional development.

Wanda Crawford works full time in the School of Medicine’s Cell Biology department doing purchasing and grants administration, but she always wanted to work more directly helping people. With the education benefit, she took classes to be licensed as a patient care assistant and now works part-time as a patient care/health care unit coordinator in the U.Va. Medical Center.

“The ed benefit paid for the entire class, and it was a very easy process,” Crawford said. “I’ve since taken classes in phlebotomy and hope to take a few more to become a medication aide.”

“Don’t think that the benefits are just there for those who are completing a degree,” said Angel Cavanaugh, an administrative assistant in the Athletics Department Office of Compliance, who recently earned her bachelor’s degree. “So many types of classes are available for anyone wanting to learn something new.”

Education benefits may be used for academic degrees or courses at U.Va. and other accredited institutions, and for non-credit courses, certificates and licenses at U.Va. and other education providers.

While the eligibility requirements for the benefit are simple, responsibility for compliance with the program’s rules rests with the employee.

For instance, restrictions on federal and state funds prohibit using the education benefit to purchase books, course packets and other materials. “These funds are really for tuition and fees only,” Anne Broccoli, director of benefits, said. 

Most importantly, “Staff and faculty are directly responsible for notifying us if a class is cancelled or dropped, and repaying the money right away,” she added. 

“We were so pleased to be able to move from a model where we reimbursed employees after completing a class to one where we give the money up front,” she said. “But to make that happen, we depend on the employees’ commitment to the agreement they sign when they take the funds.”

Misusing the funds provided through the benefit can result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination from the University, Broccoli warned. All the information about the benefit, eligibility and compliance is available here.

“I really appreciate what the University does by offering this benefit,” Crawford said. “The classes I wanted to take were out of my reach without it. Working with people in need makes you appreciate your life to the fullest, and being on the Medical Center side has taught me one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned – always be thankful for what you have.”

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