How to Get Real Value From Tuition Assistance

tuition assistance

In a small town in the northeast corner of the United States, a 15-year-old high school student has just finished taking her PSAT.  She is bracing herself for the long journey ahead, which includes thousands of school brochures and university branded emails arriving on a daily basis, weekly invitations to visit schools and attend college fairs, and countless offers to help in scholarship and tuition assistance research. And all along the way, she will have a high school guidance counselor checking in to provide support, make recommendations, and assist in hundreds of hours of research.

Halfway across the country, in a large metropolitan town in the Midwest, a 37-year-old employee of a pharmaceutical company is thinking about going back to school and getting a Master's degree. His employer will reimburse him $5250 a year (as long as the school and major comply with the rules listed in the 4 page tuition assistance policy), but process of finding the right school and program is up to him. "Make sure it's a good school," his manager says. "And be careful of all this online stuff. I went to a great school back in the day. You should check them out. Or chat with Dana in accounting. She got a degree last year and she liked her program. I think, but it was an evening program. That may not work with your schedule. Keep me posted."

Frontloading Tuition Assistance Investments: Get the Most Out of Your $28 Billion

According to the 2012 ASTD State of the Industry report, employers are spending upwards of $22 billion on tuition assistance each year (EdAssist estimates that number has grown to over $28 billion in 2016). And this is only a fraction of what the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce estimates to be $177 billion spent on formal employer sponsored training.

While that investment in the workforce is great, the challenge is that the benefit provided is mostly "back loaded." In other words, other than providing a generic tuition assistance policy, the entire benefit revolves around the dollars employees will be reimbursed after finishing a class or program.

It's hard to believe that employers spending this type of money would not be more focused on the "front end" of their tuition reimbursement programs. Providing academic advising and counseling to users of educational benefits before employees start their studies would greatly enhance their experience, not to mention maximize the employers ROI.

Ask Your Employees These Five Simple Questions Before They Use Your Tuition Assistance Dollars

Think about your employees. How involved are you in helping them answer these five simple questions before they use your tuition assistance dollars?

  • What college or university has programs that provide the type of curriculum and programming that you are looking for?
  • Do you have any previously earned credits or experience that can allow you to waive courses or transfer in credits?
  • Does the modality (online, on campus, hybrid, competency based) align with your learning style?
  • How will you budget for any out of pocket expense or find scholarships to minimize cost?
  • At this point in your career, do you need the credential or the acumen, and depending on the answer, have you vetted other options (internal training, certificates, MOOC's, etc?)

Helping Employees Focus on the End Goal: Learning

When it comes to academic advising, employers should consider the amount of support employees need prior to embarking on their academic journey. They need to ask questions (like the ones above) and provide a level of support that goes beyond "what school." For the employee, advising is more than just having a conversation with a manager or colleague. It should be a process of uncovering both motivations and preferences, with the intent of finding optimal academic options. By making academic advising the first step of the process for employer-sponsored tuition assistance programs, we take the burden of "how, where, and what" off the employees shoulders, so they can focus on the end goal, which is learning. That's not to say employees are removed from the decision process; quite the contrary. It means that they have the type of support needed that will allow them to focus on academic outcomes instead of Googling college tuition rates in their spare time.

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

About the Author

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The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.