Boeing will cushion cuts in tuition support for some

SEATTLE — Boeing offered a concession to some employees taking college courses at company expense, after complaints about the steep and unexpected cost hikes they faced after the company restricted its education subsidies last week.

For those currently taking company-approved courses, Boeing said it will cushion the change for 2010 by covering half of the difference between its new $15,000 annual cap for a graduate program and the program's actual cost.

The company told employees last week it would cap the tuition support for those taking courses deemed to be strategic, and would end support for courses unrelated to employees' Boeing work.

For some workers, the cap meant a sharp cut in the subsidy loomed in the middle of their courses.

Maximum annual support for graduate courses is to be $15,000 annually beginning next year. Career programs, such as the Seattle University evening law degree in which several dozen Boeing employees are enrolled, can cost $30,000 a year or more.

Thursday, Boeing informed current participants in the program that for the 2010 calendar year only, the company will pay half the tuition amount above that cap.

"To be fair and to give people time to adjust their financial plans, we thought this is something we could and should do," said Boeing spokeswoman Karen Forte. She said the move came in response to "negative feedback" from employees.

Employees pursuing courses deemed nonstrategic are still out of luck. Boeing hasn't changed its decision to cut all tuition support for such courses at the end of this year.

"If you're not in our law department and are pursuing a law degree, the chances of that being covered are slim," said Forte.

About 21,000 employees are in the tuition-support program, called Learning Together.

The changes to the program initially affect only nonunion salaried employees.

Forte said Boeing intends to seek similar cuts to tuition support for members of the white-collar union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, who participate in Learning Together.

Machinists union members have a separate training and education-support program that is unaffected.

Boeing estimates that about 10 percent of the 21,000 participants will lose their funding because their courses are outside the new guidelines. An additional 15 percent are affected by the tuition caps and will benefit from the concession on the cap in 2010.