Employee earns degree with aid of tuition assistance program


Fort Hays State University is a university of resilience, strength, and community. As part of this community, one particular benefit available to faculty and staff is greatly impacting people’s lives.

FHSU offers tuition assistance to its full-time employees and their dependents after one year of employment at the university. Israel Smitherman has taken advantage of that opportunity to complete his bachelor’s degree while working full-time as a custodian in the Residential Life Department.

Smitherman was driven to begin a degree program and discovered the tuition assistance program while working at Mondo Subs in the Memorial Union. His manager, at the time, told Smitherman about a full-time position opening in the custodial department. He also told him about the tuition assistance program, which caught Smitherman’s attention.

“I had been wanting to go to school, so I applied for – and ultimately got – the custodial position,” he said. “Then after a year working in custodial, I started taking classes.”

Smitherman began working as a custodian in McMindes Hall in 2015 and later transferred to Victor E. Village after its completion in 2017.

Smitherman began his degree-seeking journey by taking one or two classes a semester, eventually transitioning to full-time enrollment in the psychology program.

“My daughter was born in 2014, and that made me more serious about wanting to get an education and have more pathways in life,” he said. “That, paired with the tuition assistance program and being able to complete a psychology degree completely online, were main motivators.”

Smitherman will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is awaiting acceptance to a graduate program in Texas. Personal resilience and a positive work environment have enabled Smitherman to reach his goals.

“My team has been absolutely encouraging through the whole process,” he said. “If there are any campus-related events or classes that I need to participate in, I can be there. If I needed to do proctored testing or fill out paperwork, it was easy to do because I was already on campus. The custodial team is very encouraging and flexible.”

Attending classes virtually while being employed full-time, along with personal obligations, can be challenging for any student. But Smitherman feels his position on the Residential Life team has allowed him to maintain a healthy balance.

The nature of the job appeals to Smitherman. “We are split into different sections so that allows for working independently. It is flexible, allowing you to find an area that you are comfortable in. And the managers are all very accommodating and helpful,” he said. “I really enjoy the job. You can listen to podcasts, audiobooks, or course material while you clean, and it is relaxing.”

The tuition assistance program is not only economically beneficial but also simple to use as an employee, and Smitherman feels the program has made a notable impact on his life.

Smitherman might be unique in his path to completing his degree, starting employment at FHSU then beginning his program, but he is not alone in pursuing educational goals. FHSU is committed to aiding and encouraging all staff, faculty, and students in their educational journeys. The tuition assistance program and flexibility for employees display this commitment to the Tiger family.

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