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Tuition Fruition
Thanks to a coveted perk, more employees are sending their kids to college—and putting food on the table, too

Hospital employee Ellen Rosenthal has taken advantage of a generous benefit to send her children to college. Lisa, left, is a sophomore at Skidmore College in New York; Andy graduated in June from Trinity College in Connecticut.

For years, Ellen Rosenthal, an applications project leader in Information Services at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, considered seeking a position at the University so her children could benefit from its dependent child tuition plan. But after 30 rewarding years at JHMCIS, Rosenthal had little desire to start anew.

So when her son Andy started college four years ago, she braced herself for tuition sticker shock. Two years later, her daughter Lisa also enrolled in a private college in New England. At both institutions, tuition currently is more than $30,000 a year.

Then, in July 2002, Rosenthal found substantial relief when the Hospital, along with the JH Health System Corporation, announced that, like the University, it would offer the dependent child tuition plan to employees. This past June, the Hospital even extended the benefit to the approximately 1,700 employees who are members of the Service Employees International Union 1199E-DC (SEIU). In doing so, Hopkins Hospital, along with Bayview Medical Center, joined the ranks of very few organizations in the nation that extend a dependent tuition benefit to union members.

The coveted perk pays for up to one-half of tuition at any accredited college in the United States, as long as that amount doesn’t exceed half of that year’s tuition at Johns Hopkins University. Undergraduate tuition at JHU this academic year is $30,140, so employees may receive up to $15,070 per year per child. To qualify, employees at both the University and Hospital need two years of continuous service and full-time status.

The Hospital’s offer evolved out of the nursing shortage. “With workforce shortages and agency nurses draining our coffers, Hopkins had to do something monumental,” says Mary Carole Kirkpatrick, director of health and welfare for the JHHSC/JHH Department of Human Resources. “We didn’t feel it would be fair to offer the perk just to nurses, so it was extended to all employees.”

The money spent on dependent tuition is more than made up for by retention, Kirkpatrick says. Indeed, in its first year, the dependent tuition program resulted in a total of 72 nurses becoming full-time employees and agency nurses becoming JHH employees, saving the institution $3.13 million. Many part-time Hopkins nurses also started working full time in order to qualify for the benefit.

Employee response from all departments has been overwhelming. “People call all the time to tell us how much they appreciate the benefit,” says benefits coordinator Sharonda Purnell. In fact, the week the benefit was announced, she answered more than 100 calls. Roughly 400 dependent children per semester are taking advantage of the offering.

Kirkpatrick figures employees enticed by the perk will stay at Hopkins for at least several more years, including two to qualify for it and up to four more for college. An employee with more than one child is likely to stay longer. “You can be sure I’m sticking around,” says Rosenthal. “It’s like they just gave me a huge raise.”

—Judy Minkove



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