830  Faculty and Staff Support for Educational Expenses

Approved by President
Effective Date: June 5, 2017
Responsible Division: Business and Finance
Responsible Office:  Human Resource Services
Responsible Officer:  Assistant Vice President, Human Resource Services

I.  Purpose

Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU or University) is committed to the need for the continued professional growth and development of faculty and staff. It considers support for educational expenses of personnel an important vehicle for addressing that need. This policy outlines programs that are available, subject to funds being budgeted and available within each department.

II.  Types of Support for Educational Expenses

There are three (3) programs provided for personnel to further their formal educations. Employees should use the program outlined in Policy 829 Educational Assistance: MTSU Employee Fee Waiver prior to using the programs outlined in this policy. The programs are:

A.  Faculty or Administrative/Professional Staff Grant-in-Aid (GIA) Program. The grant-in-aid is intended to serve as a means of job related career development as well as individual professional development. GIA shall be available to eligible employees when MTSU, in its sole discretion, determines that the proposed courses of study will enhance the value of the employee to MTSU. This program is dependent upon the availability of funds. 

B.  Faculty and Staff Tuition Reimbursement Program. This program’s general goal is to encourage faculty and staff members to develop their skills and knowledge through participation in educational programs and is intended to serve as a means of job-related career development. It is also designed to provide assistance for an employee who takes credit courses in a degree program while continuing work responsibilities. The program should be used in the employee’s pursuit of a degree that is judged by the department to be beneficial to MTSU. 

C.  Employee Audit Program. This program is designed to provide course or maintenance fees only for an employee who takes courses based on one of the following:

1.  Audit;

2.  Job-related non-credit basis;

3.  Any wellness-related courses that are clearly designed to positively affect one’s physical well-being as defined by MTSU. 

III.  Faculty or Administrative/Professional Staff Grant-in-Aid Program

A.  Eligibility. Any full-time faculty member or administrative/professional staff member who has been employed by MTSU for two (2) or more years may, upon the approval of the President, be eligible for receipt of a grant-in-aid award.

1.  Employees with temporary service immediately preceding regular employment shall receive credit for such service if they qualify for leave accrual and longevity adjustments. 

2.  Requests for grant-in-aid shall be submitted on a Faculty or Administrative/Professional Staff Grant-In-Aid Program Recommendation Form.

3.  The status of an employee on the published first day of classes for each term determines eligibility for participation in this program. Any change in status after the first day of classes shall not affect eligibility for that term or the amount of assistance received.

4.  The grant-in-aid shall be awarded on the basis of demonstrated need for further academic development which will ultimately benefit MTSU. Written justification must be submitted to, and approved by, the President or designee. 

5.  Grant-in-aid normally will be limited to employees working toward the doctorate, or other terminal degree. However, requests for aid to pursue degrees below the doctoral level in technical/professional disciplines, and for the training or retraining of administrative/professional staff, will be considered.

6.  Grant recipients must be placed on an approved leave of absence and enroll as full-time students in credit courses, except where less than full-time status is needed to complete the program. 

7.  No grant-in-aid shall be awarded for a period longer than twelve (12) months.

a.  In general, a full-time grant-in-aid will be awarded on a one (1)-time basis.

b.  If the program objectives are not achieved by the end of the designated period, MTSU may grant a leave of absence for a maximum of an additional twelve (12)-month period.

c.  A second grant-in-aid may only be awarded after the recipient has fulfilled the payback provision of the first award.

B.  Fees Paid, Type Course Paid, Number of Hours

This program is designed to provide an individual with University funds for tuition or maintenance fees and/or living allowances in accordance with the following provisions:

1.  Reimbursement of tuition-related fees may not exceed actual maintenance fees or tuition. Tuition-related fees may include maintenance fees, tuition, debt service fees, online course fees, TN eCampus service charges, and incidental fees payable at the time of registration, but shall not include room, board, and supplies.

2.  Monthly living allowances may not exceed fifty percent (50%) of the grantee’s monthly salary. Academic year salaries are to be divided by twelve (12) to derive an equated monthly rate.

C.  Payback Provisions. A Faculty or Administrative/Professional Staff Grant-In-Aid Contract (Contract) shall be executed between MTSU and the recipient of the grant-in-aid, stating the conditions under which the grant-in-aid is awarded. The conditions of a grant-in-aid shall comply with the following minimum requirements:

1.  The recipient shall be required to return and be employed by MTSU for not less than three (3) months of full-time employment for each month of grant-in-aid awarded. Repayment of time shall commence immediately after completion of the period of study or withdrawal from program. In exchange for reimbursement of allowable expenses, a participant will commit to work for MTSU.

a.  Failure on the part of the recipient to remain employed for the period of time agreed upon in the contract shall result in a financial obligation to MTSU based upon the terms of the contract. The Contract specifies that if employment is voluntarily terminated prior to fulfillment of the employment obligation, the final paycheck and check representing the amount of accrued, but unused, annual leave may be withheld as repayment of the financial obligation. If such amounts are insufficient to recoup the amount owed by the employee, MTSU has the option of pursuing one (1) of two (2) methods to achieve repayment as stated below:

(1)  The amount or balance owed shall become an accounts receivable and MTSU shall follow the procedure outlined in Policy 646 Collection of Accounts Receivable. If payment in full is not obtained, the debt shall be assigned to a collection agency; or

(2)  The employee will be required to execute a Promissory Note acknowledging receipt of the grant-in-aid and containing repayment terms and conditions consistent with the grant-in-aid contract prior to the employee leaving MTSU should he/she fail to fully complete the employment requirements of the contract.

b.  MTSU may terminate the employee prior to the commencement of, or during the employment service period, provided herein. In the event of such termination by MTSU, it shall result in a financial obligation to MTSU. The amount or balance owed shall become an accounts receivable and MTSU shall follow the procedure outlined in Policy 646 Collection of Accounts Receivable. If payment in full is not obtained, the debt shall be assigned to a collection agency.   

c.  Summer or short-term employment shall be considered part-time employment in cases where the employee holds an academic year appointment. No part-time employment shall be creditable toward the fulfillment of the contract.

D.  When the Participant May Attend. After approval by the President or designee, MTSU may issue and execute the contract stating to the recipient the conditions under which the grant-in-aid is awarded, including when the participant may attend.

E.  Accounting/Budgeting Provisions

1.  The number of grants-in-aid of MTSU shall not exceed three percent (3%) of the number of full-time faculty and administrative/professional staff at MTSU at the time the awards are requested.

2.  Requests for grants-in-aid shall be submitted using the Faculty or Administrative/Professional Staff Grant-In-Aid Program Recommendation Form to the President or designee for approval prior to the beginning of the semester. After approval, MTSU will issue and execute the Contract.

3.  Complete materials supporting each grant-in-aid request shall be maintained by Human Resource Services. Also, each grant recipient shall be required to provide the official grade reports during, and upon completion, of the grant period. Continual participation is dependent on the recipient’s satisfactory progress toward completion of a course of study.

F.  Where the Participant May Attend

1.  Participants may attend public and private institutions of higher education. Requests for participants attending Tennessee public institutions will be reimbursed at the current semester hour rate for MTSU.

2.  For individuals who wish to attend other than a Tennessee public institution under this program, reimbursement will not exceed the highest current semester hour rate for a comparable program offered by MTSU.

3.  Reimbursement for concentrated programs at public or private institutions will be limited to the prevailing graduate fee rate for a comparable program at MTSU.

IV.  Faculty and Staff Tuition Reimbursement Program

A.  Eligibility. Any regular part-time or full-time employee who has been continuously employed at least six (6) months may, upon verification of service, be eligible to participate.

1.  Employees with temporary service immediately preceding regular employment shall receive credit for such service if they qualify for leave accrual and longevity adjustments.

2.  Regular part-time employees may receive a pro-rata portion of assistance based on percentage of employment.

3  Employees who retire with at least ten (10) years of State service maintain eligibility under this program.

4.  The status of an employee on the published first day of classes for each term determines eligibility for participation in this program. Any change in status after the first day of classes shall not affect eligibility for that term or the amount of assistance received.

B.  Fees Paid, Type Course Paid, Number of Hours.

1.  This program is designed to provide maintenance or tuition-related fees for a maximum of six (6) credit hours per term with a maximum of four (4) terms per year.

2.  An employee may enroll in more than one (1) course during the summer as long as the summer terms in which the courses are to be taken do not overlap. Tuition-related fees may include maintenance fees, registration fees, tuition, debt service fees, technology access fees, online course fees, TN E-campus fees, service charges, and incidental fees payable at the time of registration.

3.  Employees are responsible for required deposits, special course fees, books, supplies, application fees, applied music fees, lab fees, off-campus facility fees, parking fees, traffic fines, and similar fees.

4.  Employees must meet the requirements for admission and the regular academic rules and regulations of the institution offering the course.

C.  Payback Provisions

1.  The recipient, unless retired, shall be required, after completion of the course or courses, to be employed for not less than one (1) month of full-time employment for each month of the term of participation in the Faculty and Staff Tuition Reimbursement Program.

a.  Early separation will require the employee to reimburse MTSU for the remaining balance of this commitment.

2.  In order to receive future reimbursement, participants must satisfactorily complete all course requirements as defined by the academic program in which they enrolled. A grade of Incomplete or a withdrawal is not considered as satisfactory completion. The employee must pay for, and satisfactorily complete, the same number of hours before again being eligible for this program. Exceptions will be made only in cases:

a.  Where a course is failed for health reasons, or

b.  Where another substantial reason is recognized by the attending institution’s academic guidelines.

3.  For employees taking courses at institutions other than MTSU, reimbursement applications shall be conditionally approved and held by the department until the employee requests reimbursement and documents satisfactory course completion. At that time, the employee will be reimbursed for the prior course(s) and subsequent applications may be conditionally approved. 

4.  If the employee is attending MTSU, the fees may be waived for classes taken, but employees will be subject to the provisions of this policy regarding service time after the class and satisfactory course completion. Successful completion of courses must be documented before being granted approval to take subsequent classes under this program.

D.  When the Participant May Attend. Courses should be scheduled at times other than during the regularly scheduled work hours, unless the use of annual leave or an adjusted work schedule has been documented and approved by the supervisor prior to enrolling in the program.

E.  Accounting/Budget Provisions. Requests for approval to participate in the Reimbursement Program shall be submitted via the Faculty and Staff Tuition Reimbursement Request Form.

1.  If the employee is required to pay fees when due, fees may be paid in accordance with the provisions of Policy 644 Installment Fee Payment Program, provided an Installment Payment Plan has been implemented at the institution the employee is attending.

2.  MTSU shall account for the reimbursement as an employee benefit to indicate that MTSU is paying the cost for the benefit of the employee. The institution the employee is attending will account for the fees as maintenance income.

F.  Where the Participant May Attend

1.  Participants may attend public and private institutions of higher education. Requests for participants attending public institutions will be reimbursed at the current semester hour rate for MTSU.

2.  For individuals who wish to attend other than a Tennessee public institution under this program, reimbursement will not exceed the highest current semester hour rate for MTSU.

3.  Reimbursement for concentrated programs at public or private institutions will be limited to the prevailing graduate fee rate for MTSU. 

V.  Employee Audit/Non-Credit Program

A.  Eligbility. Any regular full-time or part-time employee who has been employed by MTSU for at least six (6) months may, upon verification of service, be eligible to participate.

1.  Regular part-time employees may receive a pro rata portion of assistance based on percentage of employment.

2.  Employees with prior temporary service immediately preceding regular employment shall receive credit for such service if they qualify for leave accrual and longevity adjustments.

3.  Requests for approval to participate shall be submitted on the Employee Audit/Non-Credit Form.

4.  MTSU employees who retire with at least ten (10) years of state service immediately preceding retirement maintain eligibility under this program.

5.  With the exception of retirees, as stated above, the employment status of an employee on the published first day of classes for each term determines eligibility for participation in this program. Any change in employment status after the first day of classes shall not affect eligibility for that term or the amount of assistance received.

6.  Retired state employees with thirty (30) or more years of service are eligible to audit courses at state institutions of higher education without charge.

B.  Fees Paid, Type Course Paid, Number of Hours

1.  This program is designated to pay maintenance or tuition-related fees for audit, job related non-credit courses, or wellness courses, to a maximum of six (6) credit hours or two (2) job-related non-credit or wellness courses per term.

2.  Tuition related fees may include maintenance fees, registration fees, tuition, debt service fees, technology access fees, online course fees, TN eCampus fees, service charges, and incidental fees payable at the time of registration.

3.  Job related courses designed to prepare an individual to sit for specific certification or licensure exams may be eligible for reimbursement under this program, subject to approval by MTSU. 

C.  Payback Provisions. Payback provisions do not exist.

D.  When the Participant May Attend

1.  Supervisors/Department Heads who approve participation in this program should keep in mind that job performance is paramount and must receive priority.

2.  Courses should be scheduled at times other than during regularly scheduled work hours unless the use of annual leave or an adjusted work schedule has been documented and approved by the supervisor prior to enrolling in the course.

3.  Course enrollment will be permitted on a “space available” basis. The enrollment is limited to available space with the intent that tuition-paying students shall not be denied enrollment by a student using the Employee Audit/Non-Credit Program. 

4.  An employee may register only after the formal registration period as defined by the institution.

E.  Accounting/Budgeting

1.  Requests shall be submitted to Human Resource Services on an Employee Audit/Non-Credit Program Form at least two (2) weeks prior to enrollment in the course or courses.

2. State retirees shall submit forms developed by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission available on their website

3.  MTSU will account for the chargeback as an employee benefit to indicate that MTSU is paying the cost for the benefit of the employee.

4.  The fees will be accounted for at the attending institution as maintenance income.

5.  Forms for state retirees shall be processed by the institution in the same manner as fee waivers for state employees.

F.  Where the Participant May Attend

1.  All such audit/non-credit courses must be accomplished at MTSU where the person is/was employed or another Tennessee public institution.

2.  Employees requesting the program must meet the requirements for admission and are subject to institutional regulations and academic procedures.

V.  Taxation of Educational Assistance Programs

Undergraduate course tuition paid by MTSU for their employees is eligible for exclusion from the employees’ gross annual income, in accordance with Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 117(d). For graduate courses, tuition will be included in the employee’s income as wages. The only exception for excluding graduate tuition from income is for a course that qualifies as “work-related.”

Graduate courses are considered work related if the education maintains or improves skills required by the individual in his/her employment; or meets the express requirements of the individual’s employer, or the requirement of applicable law or regulations, imposed as a condition to retain the present position or salary.

However, even if the education meets the requirements listed above, the education expenditures are not considered work related if the education is required in order to meet the minimum education requirements for qualification in his/her employment; or qualifies the individual in a new trade or business.

If the supervisor is not sure that the graduate course is work-related, the supervisor should contact the Benefits Section of the Office of Human Resource Services for assistance in making the determination.

Exceptions to the provisions of the programs can be made by the President or designee.

Forms: 

Employee Audit/Non-Credit

Faculty and Staff Tuition Reimbursement Request Form

Faculty or Administrative/Professional Staff Grant-In-Aid Contract

Faculty or Administrative/Professional Staff Grant-In-Aid Program Recommendation

Promissory Note

Revisions: none.

References: Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 117(d); Policies 644 Installment Fee Payment Program; 646 Collection of Accounts Receivable; 829 Educational Assistance: MTSU Employee Fee Waiver.