Why Education Assistance is Today's Must-Have Benefit

educational assistance

About a week ago, my colleagues held our company's 7th-annual virtual education fair to assist client employees who wanted to go back to school.  How'd it go?

In 2013, one of the first years of the fair, we attracted just about 700 employees.

Fast forward four years and the number has tripled to more than 2,100 employees from more than 70 different clients connecting with 45 colleges and dozens of advisors about how to take the next step toward achieving their educational goals.

So the answer is, it went well.

Education Assistance is at top of Employees' Wish Lists

For those following HR news, the virtual crowd is no surprise. It also aligns closely with trends discussed at the September EBN Benefits Forum & Expo I attended in Boca Raton. The synopsis: education is a hot talent strategy.

Discussion after discussion bore this out. The unmistakable sign was that education has emerged as a cornerstone (and highly competitive) response to a tight talent market.

To Employees, Learning Equals Earning

To fully grasp the excitement about education as a powerful strategy, one need only look at some of the other facts that came from the conference:

  • Gen Z and Millennials feel that their education has not prepared them for their jobs
  • They're feeling out of synch with a future in management roles
  • They're focused on employers that offer education and development opportunities
In short: employees want to learn. Just as important, they're after more than just traditional diplomas. The best programs know education goes furthest when it supports multiple learning styles and demographics. Not every employee wants a degree. A recent study we did on healthcare employees showed that older nurses (healthcare's critical knowledge base) also want development. Many told us they'd stick around to advance their skills. But do Boomers really want a four-year degree?

Over and over at our Expo booth we heard smart companies talking about adding shorter educational formats (Certifications or MOOCs, for example) to complement traditional college and degree offerings.

Loan Repayment is Heating Up

Not surprisingly, there's interest on the other side of the equation as well - helping to pay down loans for degrees already earned. Some of today's most valuable hires are carrying considerable student debt. And there's evidence loan repayment is about to heat up substantially. Many benefits brokers and consultants came to the conference tasked with understanding the benefit and reporting back to their clients. Another sign: US Representative Rodney Davis told the EBN audience that HR795 - a bill which would, like tuition assistance, provide a tax-free benefit to put toward an employee's student loan debt -- continues to build broad bipartisan support. That not a day seems to go by without an article ranking education and loan repayment at the top of Millennial employees' wish lists adds additional urgency.

It all adds up to some pretty significant signs for employers. As a Harvard Business Review author recently pointed out, "In the modern economy, we can't just stop learning."

That fact was certainly evident in the crowd at our 2017 education fair.
man in sweater holding paper

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Written by: Alan Robins

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.