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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, May 25, 2024

What makes a Jumbo? Faculty and staff take courses alongside students through Tuition Remission program

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Phoebe Sargeant (left) and John Callahan (right), two Tufts employees taking university courses, are pictured.

Throwing caps in the air, many graduating seniors are about to take their first step out of a lifetime of education and into the next phase of adulthood. After taking countless courses at Tufts, these young adults earn their degree and their freedom from the classroom.

However, not all people who take Tufts courses are just students; staff and faculty take courses as well — at no cost. As part of the Tuition Remission program, full-time employees at Tufts are able to take up to four courses a year, and part-time employees can take a maximum of two courses a year. Additionally, undergraduate courses are tax-exempt for employees, and the same is possible for graduate courses if they are related to their current career path and approved as professional development.

Sally Brzozowski, associate director of digital engagement at Tufts, is a 2023 graduate from the Tufts Gordon Institute master’s program in engineering management. For Brzozowski, the Tuition Remission program is an opportunity to be on the receiving end of its educational services.

“It’s a huge incentive of working here, and one I wish more people took advantage of,” Brzozowski said. “It is just a really great way to, … be involved in the university and to see what it’s like to be a part of the [educational] system.”

Phoebe Sargeant is an administrative coordinator in the political science department. She earned two Tufts degrees as a student, and now, as an employee, is pursuing a master’s degree in history. Sargeant outlined the monetary benefits of the Tuition Remission program.

“Every course is around $3,000 or $4,000 now,” Sergeant said. “With four classes a year, that’s 16 grand of your compensation that you’re not taking advantage of.”

The Tuition Remission program is not for everyone, though. John Callahan, a member of the groundskeeping staff who takes Tufts courses, elaborated.

“There’s a lot of people who work here that don’t do it,” Callahan said. “Everyone has their spot that they settle into in life that they’re happy with. And if you’re already there, why screw with it?”

For those Tufts employees that are able and willing to take on the extra time commitment of courses, it can be an incredible and rewarding experience. Staff and faculty can pursue a degree through the program or take any assortment of courses for the sole purpose of personal fulfillment.

Sargeant, who attended Tufts as an undergraduate, spoke to her own experience as a long-term Jumbo.

“I can blend into the students really well, which I think also is helpful for me to say ‘yes’ to these courses and find myself in these courses because I’m comfortable in the university,” Sargeant said.

The program is designed so that all staff and faculty can partake in it, no matter their educational background. It did not stop Brzozowski, having graduated herself with a bachelor’s degree in English and political science, from enrolling in engineering management courses.

“[Tufts] is such a high caliber school to offer such a pathway,” Brzozowski said. “I do think it’s also this great equalizer, that is … available to so many people.”

With a wide range of course offerings available, staff and faculty have a lot of choice when it comes to exploring their interests in class. Sargeant enjoys having a formal setting to engage in topics she is passionate about.

“I was able to take creative writing, something I [wanted] to do for myself for years [but] never had the chance to [as an] undergrad,” Sargeant said. “It’s going to count for nothing [toward my degree], but I had so much fun. I had a blast, I learned a ton.”

Brzozowski also explored more creative course offerings. The first class she took through the Tuition Remission program was at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. From there, Brzozowski decided to seek out courses that would apply toward a master’s degree that she could pursue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[Class] was my favorite part of every day, when I would take my lunch hour to do this project management homework,” Brzozowski said. “It felt like recess for my brain, and that was in fall 2020 where there wasn't that much else a person could do for entertainment, … so I did that and I was like, ‘if this is what this degree is, then I have to go for it.’”

Brzozowski encouraged others to try out things, even if the end goals are unclear.

“I follow the idea of prototyping your life, design thinking for one’s life, including, if you’re considering something, prototype it and test out your theory,” Brzozowski said. “I said to myself, … if I like this class, maybe I should consider this great degree, and I loved the class, so as soon as I was done, I applied for the [Tuition Remission] program.”

Experiences like this show how many educational paths the Tuition Remission program can reveal.

“You don’t appreciate how many doors education can open for you until those doors are closed in front of you,” Callahan said. “I think working has taught me … that.”

Callahan is not currently pursuing a degree through Tuition Remission; however, taking courses has been a meaningful learning opportunity in his eyes.

“One thing I’ve appreciated about these classes is, they’re actually pretty realistic to work life,” Callahan said. “They’ve been more open-ended [with] open discussions, and you have to discuss with other people.”

Overall, the program offers the opportunity to pursue learning that is applicable to the lives and careers that employees are already building.

“One thing that drove me and made it more rewarding, is that I could really use everything I learned,” Brzozowski said.

The difficulty of taking a course while working full-time cannot be underestimated.

“You enjoy it at the end of the day, but there’s going to be moments where it's like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a lot of work, what did I get myself into,’” Sargeant said.

Callahan compared a commitment to lifelong learning to his own love of physical fitness.

“Exercising is my favorite thing. You always have to push yourself physically and education is just like that,” Callahan said. “You’ve got to push yourself to learn more.”

Brzozowski’s takeaways from the program include experiencing Tufts through many roles: as employee, student and an alum.

“I do think the Tufts education is so valuable, and it’s nice to be able to be a part of it, not only by doing so much of the communications, but also by being an alumni as of a few weeks from now,” Brzozowski said.

For Tufts’ staff and faculty members, the Tuition Remission program opens the door to an accessible, well-rounded educational and social experience.

“It is a totally awesome deal,” Callahan said. “I’ve met a lot of really great people, I’ve learned a lot of great things to improve myself. I’m very curious and eager to do more. It’s been a whole new world basically, a very eye-opening experience.”