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How UT staff members can balance classes and career.

An chalkboard illustration of a person juggling a book, a clock, an apple, an email message and a laptop.
Illustration by Madilynn Thomason/photo via Shutterstock.

On a hot Tuesday morning last summer, Colten Crist entered his office and turned on the lights. It was 7 a.m., and the campus was still quiet. He sat at his computer, surrounded by his colleagues’ empty desks, and prepared for his packed schedule. He had three hours of work, three hours of Spanish class, five more hours of work, and a campus event that night. By the time he got home, it was already Wednesday.

Crist, then the assistant advertising manager at Texas Student Media, used the Staff Educational Benefit to take UT courses while he was a full-time staff member. The benefit covers the cost of one eligible university semester credit course regardless of the number of credit hours or multiple courses, provided that the combined number of course hours does not exceed three. Most full-time university employees who have been employed for at least one year can take advantage of the benefit, but only 190 staff members did so during the 2018 fall semester.

Several factors could be keeping staff and faculty members from pursuing an education at the university. It takes much time and dedication to pursue a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree. Staff and faculty members might have to pay money out of pocket if they choose to take more than one course per semester or join a program that requires a set number of curriculum courses. Still, those who have done it say they think they made the right decision. Their experiences could help those who are unsure of whether to take advantage of the Staff Educational Benefit.

“I think that all staff should take advantage of SEB even if they’re not pursuing a degree,” Crist says.

Some staff members endeavor to take more than three credit hours per semester. Rebecca Gavillet, a senior program coordinator at the McCombs School of Business, takes six hours per semester to pursue a doctorate in higher education. To do so, she cuts out time from watching television and surfing the internet. She also uses her nights and weekends to catch up on homework and assignments. She says that, like other college students, her workload ebbs and flows. When times get rough, she said she makes sure to keep her endgame in sight.

LaToya Smith received a doctorate in higher education in 2005 while maintaining a full-time university job. She now works as the senior associate athletics director for intercollegiate athletics and has a faculty position in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy. She advises potential students to evaluate their ability to juggle academic and professional demands. Managing coursework and a 40-hour workweek requires a high level of commitment.

“If I had to do it all over again, honestly, I’d probably do it the exact same way,” Smith says. “I think the cost was that social life kind of gets pushed to the back burner. So, I got married later in life. I elected to push that on the back burner until I was finished academically, and I have no regrets for that.”

Del Watson, a doctoral student and director of faculty affairs in the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, has a similar belief to Smith’s. She said that because she doesn’t have any children, she only needs to manage her own schedule. She has to give up some personal time to achieve her doctorate in higher education, but she also takes some days off to take care of herself.

“I think if you have that curiosity and interest, then do it,” she says. “You can go to class part time. You can still have somewhat of a life and pursue that curiosity and interest. I’m a firm believer of being a lifelong learner. If you have the opportunity, pursue it — do it for yourself.”

Smith, Gavillet, Watson and Crist all said that supportive supervisors are crucial aids to the education process. As university community members, supervisors at UT tend to have a strong understanding of the work that goes into education and the value gained. So, when it’s possible, supervisors often approve a flexible schedule.

“I’ll be honest,” Smith said. “I don’t think I would have been able to be successful without the support of my supervisor. And my supervisor at the time had also received her Ph.D. while working full time, so I think she understood … I ended up having to utilize a flex schedule.”

Studying as a staff member also has its advantages. Both Gavillet and Crist found that working on campus allowed them more opportunities to meet with their professors.

Working students might take longer to complete degrees, depending on how they split their time and their finances. They do what they can to complete requirements while succeeding at their jobs. But these staff members all agreed that sacrificing for their educational advancement has been worth it.

I’m a firm believer of being a lifelong learner. If you have the opportunity, pursue it — do it for yourself.

Del Watson, director of faculty affairs in the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost


Know what’s covered

The Staff Educational Benefit, or SEB, allows UT staff members to take courses at the university for free. It covers undergraduate or graduate courses, and staff members can use it in the fall, spring and summer. It will cover the cost of a single course for any amount of credit hours per semester or multiple courses that add up to three credit hours in a semester.

Make a plan and apply

To take advantage of the SEB, you must be admitted into The University of Texas at Austin. You can apply as a degree seeker or non-degree seeker. A staff member who already has an undergraduate degree may want to apply as a transfer student. Connect to an admissions officer to determine what path is best for your goals, and familiarize yourself with the deadlines at admissions.utexas.edu. You can apply to UT even if you are not yet eligible for the SEB.

Check your eligibility

To be eligible, you must be an active university employee appointed full time (40 hours a week). You must have been assigned to a full-time position for at least 12 months prior to the first class day.

Register for your course

You need to register for your desired class before applying for the SEB. You can do this online with your EID. You must complete the SEB application by the 12th class day of the fall and spring semesters or the fourth day of the summer sessions.

Talk to your supervisor

You don’t need approval to apply for the SEB, but you do need your supervisor’s approval to take classes during the workday. This policy is outlined in the Revised Handbook of Operating Procedures, under “Taking Coursework During the Workday Policy.”

Important links:

hr.utexas.edu   up-to-date information about the SEB

admissions.utexas.edu — admissions and deadline info

gradschool.utexas.edu — graduate admissions procedures

policies.utexas.edu — The Handbook of Operating Procedures