Wow, what an exciting week for tuition assistance! In light of the buzz around corporate education benefits that has emerged recently, I know a number of employers are starting to look at their own tuition reimbursement and professional development strategies. The big question employers are asking right now is “What’s next for OUR program?”
What’s Next for Your Tuition Assistance Program?
It’s a great question to ask, and I love that there’s an increased focus now on educational assistance and workforce development. As Dave Lissy, the CEO of Bright Horizons recently stated, “…the tuition assistance benefit is really one of the last bastions of unmanaged spend in corporate America today.” It’s hard to believe that in this economy, with the constant tightening of budgets and scrutiny on benefit expenses, 15 to 20 billion dollars are spent each year on tuition assistance with minimal tracking of actual ROI. Educational assistance may very well be a benefit for employees, but there is no reason that employers shouldn’t reap the rewards as well.
So as organizations take a second look at their tuition assistance programs, I want to provide a couple of tips that can help make programs a win-win for both employers and employees.
Tips for Successful Corporate Education Programs
Employers need to communicate the intended outcomes of TAP
Many organizations who offer tuition assistance simply do it because “everyone else has a program.” They are concerned about promoting the benefit to their workforce because they fear that by doing so they will dramatically increase their spend. However, by streamlining your tuition assistance program administration, you can actually decrease individual employee spend. In other words, the same dollars currently being used on tuition can be spread across a greater number of employees.
At EdAssist, we advise employees on the best way to stretch their tuition cap dollars, by directing them to the right schools, programs, and learning options that are compliant with company policy. The truth is that once employees believe their organization believes in education and recognize clear paths to helping them go back to school, there is a much greater sense of loyalty and commitment to completing their education. Employers should not only actively promote the benefit, but clearly communicate the intended outcomes as well.
Find the balance between being equitable and being strategic
This one is going to be controversial, I know. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard a benefits manager say to me, “Well, we REALLY like the academic programs at University X, but we don’t want to show favoritism to one school over the other,” or: “We aren’t sure we should change our tuition policy because we don’t want to treat one group of employees differently from others.”
While I understand the reasoning behind both statements, the truth of the matter is that in order to maximize your ROI (both in terms of cost savings and workforce development), you have to focus on learning outcomes. For example, take a hospital trying to achieve or maintain Magnet® status. The hospital will be evaluated on how many of their nurses hold BSN degrees (rather than RN degrees). If that’s the case, it makes perfect sense to raise the salary cap for caregivers pursuing a Bachelor’s degree. In the same token, if a particular college or university can accommodate specific learning objectives that a company wants to meet, why not encourage employees to attend that school? It’s a win-win.
While we at EdAssist strongly believe in giving employees educational options (thus over 200 colleges and universities in our Education Network) remember that you don’t have to eliminate choices to be strategic. Focus on creating a baseline for a healthy tuition program, and then creating multiple pathways within that program to drive toward very specific, targeted learning outcomes. For example, your tuition policy may allow for a standard tuition cap for employees to seek degrees at any regionally-accredited school in the country. But above and beyond that, why not develop a different cap for programs that can help meet the needs of “hard to fill” positions? You will still have equity in your program, but that equity will be driven by what your organization’s learning needs.
One Size Does Not Fit All
These are just two of the many recommendations we share with clients looking to breathe new life into their programs. Having worked closely with more than 120 clients, we can safely say that no two companies use tuition assistance in exactly the same manner. And truth be told, that is exactly the way it should be. Organizations are different, with unique employees, cultures, and learning objectives. A tuition assistance program needs to reflects your company’s educational needs. While it is important to have a strong baseline program (policy standards, guidelines, etc.) to maintain a budget and process, it is equally important to consider the specific educational needs of different employee segments within your workforce.
So how do you answer the question, “What’s next for MY tuition assistance program?” I would start by recognizing that one size does not fit all. In actuality, one size fits one. If having a stronger business and smarter workforce is truly your end goal, there are many pathways to get there using tuition assistance.
EdAssist offers a tuition program management platform, educational advising services, discounted tuition for employees at select institutions, and consulting services for organizations who want to maximize their workforce development & corporate education programs. Learn more about EdAssist’s tuition assistance offerings.