How to Get the Most from Tuition Assistance? Ask the Right Questions

education assistance advising

Tough times are ahead for employers. According to reports, in the not-too-distant future, fewer students will be arriving on college campuses (in part the result of diminished recession-era birthrates). The result will be fewer undergrads, fewer future college graduates, fewer skills for the workforce.

The shift marks a new era for employers, one in which employees won't be arriving already trained. And not surprisingly, the number talking about training their own is on the rise. New and enhanced tuition assistance and education programs are practically daily announcements; they're aimed at every level of the workforce - from the frontline up; and they're multiplying as employers start thinking about how to strengthen tomorrow's pipelines.

The gesture is well intended. But is it enough merely to announce financial assistance to go back to school? Not if you want your investment to generate results. A random assemblage of skills won't get you very far. One company's manufacturing technicians is another company's cyber security. Truly benefiting from your program means producing the right skillsets. And for that, you'll need to answer the what, where, why, and how of your program - both for you and your employees. Specifically:

What skills are you looking for?

A haphazardly planned program is going to generate haphazard results. Instead, spend some time now planning and targeting for the skills you need and figuring out how to strategically reach them.

How will people pay for it?

Even with tuition assistance, money can be an employee obstacle. But the right structure can whittle it down. Will you reimburse employees and pay by the credit? Or can you pay schools directly and by the year? The latter will minimize employees' out-of-pocket expenses and remove the financial obstacle.

Why should people take this on?

School is a long, potentially arduous road. A well-designed program that shows employees not only the path to a degree, but the job at the end of the rainbow gives people a good reason to take it.

Where will employees go to school?

Pathways don't just materialize from thin air. Delivering degrees (and so skills) will require the right schools; and that will require formalized arrangements with enough universities to help everyone find the program that fits.

There's another reason to start planning. The shift in higher-education may be a longer-term trend in how employees migrate to the workforce. As the Times pointed out about colleges, "No longer is the school's most promising pipeline the average teenager going to college for the first time." Further, with so many employers offering education help, many of today's employees expect it. So a well-thought-out program promises both recruitment and development gold.

And that means the employers who mine it will be sitting pretty when shortages come knocking at their door.
An employee getting education assistance from her employer

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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.