College Isn't Just a Family Problem

Benefits equity



Right now, high school students around the country are nervously hovering around virtual and actual mailboxes waiting for the big news about their college applications: accepted or denied? Why does this matter to employers? We posed the question to Patrick Donovan. Patrick doesn't just oversee College Coach; he's also the father of four future college students (one a high school junior who just came back from a college visit). Here's what he had to say.

Lisa Oppenheimer: College is just a family problem! or is it?

Patrick Donovan:  The college process is one of those things that exists a little under the radar until it becomes all-consuming. But it's a big problem for employers and a big opportunity.

LO: How so?

PD:   Nearly half of the 80-million families in this country have a child under 18. That's a large percentage.  These parents know that for their children to be most competitive in tomorrow's workforce, they'll need a college education.  But applying to college today is so different than it was when today's parents were applying. So they're worried. Think about it you've raised a child for 18 years, it's now senior year and this is now your one shot to apply to that college. You make a mistake and you only find out when you get the rejection letter. That's real consequences and real stress. And it's even more stressful if you think you have to go it alone.

An increasing number of employers are seeing this and engaging help from experts like ours former college admissions officers who, because they know the process from the inside, help ease this process for stressed-out working parents. For example, they can tell you if the application essay your child is writing really gives the college a sense of what makes your child unique, or is way off the mark. Having a trusted, impartial expert (provided to them by their employer no less) is an enormous weight off people's shoulders. And that's just the admissions side. What people quickly realize is that once a child gets accepted, there's a whole new set of problems.

LO: Such as?

PD: How to afford it. The brochure my son brought back from the college he just visited prominently shows that the out-of-state tuition is $60K per year!  If you haven't saved, or you don't know how the financial aid process works, or how to secure scholarships, or how to best finance the costs, then you and your child could face a crippling debt burden after graduation. This education debt crisis is well known today, unfortunately. Our former college financial aid officers, like our admissions advisors, know how this works from the inside, so they help people save thousands and thousands of dollars by preparing and taking the correct steps throughout the process.

For example, many people believe that they should send their child to the biggest name (and probably most expensive school) their child can get into and take the financial offer from the college at face value. But, for their own and their child's future financial wellness (and we know financial wellness is a big deal for employers) families should know whether there's another, less expensive school that can deliver that child's future just as well but without six figures of debt.  Our College Coach experts can do that because they've all been admissions officers at a college but unlike a current admissions officer, they're no longer trying to get a student to come to their specific school.

LO: You mentioned financial aid. Any specific insight there?

PD:   Yes. What most people don't know is that once your child gets his or her acceptance offers, the power shifts to you and you have more power than you think. You can actually negotiate with the financial aid office for more aid. Our objective finance experts will tell you that every school wants as many of their accepted students as possible to attend (what's known as "yield"). And they don't want to lose students to a direct competitor. I've heard our experts say, "When I was at college X we knew we were competing against college Y and I could improve my financial aid offer to you if you asked me." So imagine coming out of this paying $5K, $10K, $20K less per year than you expected. That's material financial wellness.

LO: So offering education assistance solves significant employee stress and improves financial wellness?

PD: It's that! but it's more. Many companies provide child care for parents with young children and elder care for the sandwich generation. But supporting parents with high school students can be a unserved gap. Educational advising fills that gap and provides that benefits equity. It delivers tangible and emotional benefits that have people tremendously grateful to the HR department and company that provided it. And it serves young families really well too. College costs range from $30K to $70K per year, and the costs are growing. As soon as they find out they're pregnant, many soon-to-be parents are thinking, "What's my plan for this?"

If you're planning to have your child go to college, you need to think about things like saving strategies, 529 plans, plus the Common Core, primary and secondary school selection, course selection and a number of other things years ahead! and a good educational approach can help with that. From the employer's perspective, it's something unique that not all employers offer; and that's an advantage for those that do. Every organization has medical, 401(k), not everyone has this. It helps with recruiting and retention, along with productivity and financial wellness. That's a substantial payoff. It's one of those sticky benefits too; once someone uses it for one child, they want to use it for all their children. I hope that helps. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to talk to my son about the advice I got from my College Coach expert on the benefits of him working while he goes to college.  

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.