Education Assistance: No Longer a Secret Benefit

Young man and mentor studying using tuition assistance form his employer

A few years ago, a Forbes writer had this to say about tuition assistance benefits:

“America’s employers spend approximately $22 billion each year on college and university tuition in the form of tuition assistance programs (TAP).”

“More could be accomplished if employers weren’t trying so hard to keep it secret.”

The headline:

“Tuition Assistance Programs: The Secret Employee Benefit.”

What Everyone Should Know About Their Education Benefits

Flash forward a few years, and the landscape has definitely changed. High-profile education programs are sprouting like daisies, with new announcements practically daily events. Some of the globe’s most famous brands are expanding programs for their entire frontlines – even offering fully paid degrees.  

And executives are going on record to weigh in: 

  • From Aetna vice president of employee benefits and well-being: “Education is a powerful vehicle to help employees advance their career. If, five to 10 years down the road, our employees are still only earning $16 an hour, we’ve failed.”

  • From T-Mobile: "We'd hear from our employees that our tuition benefit was awesome, but they couldn't afford to pay out of pocket and be reimbursed after the course ended. So, we fixed it! We now pay schools UP FRONT.” 

Not One Size Fits All 

But the mass wave of programs is just one aspect of a broader shift. Both of the above comments represent more than wishful thinking – they signal a top-down strategy. Each organization had a goal of what they wanted to get out of it, for themselves, and their people. Each designed their program around it. 

That’s key, because study after study shows unassailable data; that education and development drives people to stay in – or leave -- their jobs. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Maybe you need a very specific skill. Maybe you’re angling for a broader talent strategy across a wide swath of employees. Maybe, like T-Mobile, you already have a program but you have to troubleshoot its usage. You can do all that. But you won’t know until you assess the data in your company and then match it with the right approach. You’ll also need to keep assessing. That same Forbes writer who labeled tuition programs “a secret” also called out employers for ignoring follow-up metrics. “Without tracking, employers can’t even consider directing TAP strategically to address the skills gap.” This is something we stress every day with education benefits clients Metrics allow you to see where your program’s going right – and where you need to adjust – toward your goals. And that’s how you ensure you’re maximizing your investment. High-performing companies are already taking this metrics-based approach. And it’s working. 

You only have to pop open a newspaper to see that education benefits are definitely not a secret anymore. But the cold, hard facts about what such a benefit can do for your organization? That shouldn’t be a secret either.

Young professional learning new computer skills

The State of Education Benefits Report

The New Benchmarks for Tuition Assistance and Student Loan Programs

Written by: Alan Robins

July 24, 2019

About the Author

Alan Robins at Bright Horizons

As Director of Product Marketing, Alan drives original research and thought leadership for Bright Horizons education benefits programs, drawing on his extensive experience helping companies optimize education programs to support their Talent and HR objectives. Prior to Bright Horizons, Alan was at Gartner, a global leader in providing advisory services to technology and business executives, where he led new product teams in Europe and the US.