Tuition Assistance Programs: Do You Know Where Your Money is Going?

Tuition Assistance Programs

Bright Horizons CEO Dave Lissy often calls tuition assistance, "The last bastion of un-managed spend in corporate America." Why? For explanation, I direct you to a personal moment in my own history. I was 16 years old and offered the privilege of driving the family car. The caveat: I had to pick up my mother after work, and to do that, I had to use my father's credit card to fill the tank. Access to the car AND dad's credit card? Jackpot! I don't remember every detail after that...honestly. But with a high level of confidence, I can assure you of three things:

  • My mom was picked-up from work...reasonably on time.
  • The gas tank was filled-up as requested, but probably with the wrong type of gas.
  • One month later, there was a lot of yelling in my household regarding some mysterious "extra" credit card charges from the mall.
The takeaway: my father offered up the car and the credit card and didn't think about what would happen after the short term goal (picking up my mother from work) was accomplished. This leads me back to Dave's aforementioned comment about unmanaged spend.

Following the Money: What Is Your Tuition Assistance Program Really Buying? 

In the same way my father allowed me free access to the credit card, employers are spending millions of dollars each year to support employee education without really knowing what they're getting (or not getting) in return. The short term goal is easy to see. Provide employees with another "benefit." But are the employees gaining skills? Are they finishing degrees? Are newly earned credentials making the organization stronger? What is the long term ROI, and even more important, what could it be?

What is Your Tuition Assistance Program Really Buying?

In many cases, this is because tuition assistance programs get treated like any other benefit that's hidden somewhere in the employee handbook between health insurance, gym memberships, retirement, and pet insurance. It gets tracked as a line item expense, one that employees use because they can, and employers have because they feel they need to. But what if tuition assistance could be used to take your organization to the next level? Imagine if every education dollar that left the organization could be directly correlated to a specific return that would drive the business forward? We do that with marketing. We do that for product strategy. Why not for workforce development with dollars that are already allocated? Our team at EdAssist deals with this every day. In our role helping to build, manage, and shape tuition assistance programs for some of the largest organizations in the country, we talk to employers about identifying skills gaps within the organization, and aligning tuition assistance funding to help close those gaps. We talk about partnering with the right colleges and universities, and advising employees to choose programs with learning outcomes that will strengthen their skills. And we talk about making sure the tuition assistance policy is clear, not only in terms of process, but also in terms of overall business strategy.

Turning Tuition Assistance Programs into a High-ROI Strategy

In my last blog entry, I mentioned developing learning strategies discussed at the CLO Breakfast Club here in Boston where I served as a guest panelist. During the discussion, the topic of "resources" came up, and I asked the learning and development professionals in the room if funding for these was ever a concern. There was unequivocal nodding in the room. I then asked how many of their organizations had a tuition assistance benefit. Again, there was a pretty unanimous showing of hands. Finally, I asked, "So how many of you are leveraging the dollars already being spent on education, and telling your CLO and CFO not to worry about funding, because you can shape your tuition assistance program to meet all of your needs and won't need to spend an extra dime?" Not so many hands went up. And that goes back to my story. A parent, in a moment of haste, didn't consider that a 16 year old son would possibly do something reckless with a credit card. In the same manner, organizations are waiting until the end of the year to see where their tuition dollars went. And in some cases, they are not even asking. I would challenge you to think about the type of education your employees need, and help guide them (strategically and financially) to go out and get it. Tuition assistance should not be "just another benefit." It should be a tool that employers leverage to drive strategic outcomes. Otherwise, instead of getting value you from your program, you may be stuck staring at the statement, wondering how you paid for all this extra stuff from the mall.

For more about how EdAssist has successfully partnered with clients across a variety of industries to help strategically increase the value they and their employees are getting from their tuition assistance programs, visit our library of case studies.

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.