Tuition Reimbursement and External Education: Beware of What You Don't Know

Optimize your tuition reimbursement strategies.

Most employers have a good read on the usage and expenses of their tuition reimbursement program. But how much do you know about the other external employee education programs your company is paying for? Maybe not as much as you think.

As we've said before in these pages, many companies are reluctant to fund new models for adult learners (MOOCs, boot camps, certifications) through tuition reimbursement, even though in some cases they can be faster and less expensive than regular degree programs. While nobody's suggesting abandoning degrees completely, there are a lot of excellent and financially sound arguments for enabling non-traditional learning programs as a complement to your tuition reimbursement.

External Education: What You Don't Know is Costing You

But there's another, equally compelling reason you should figure out a way to accommodate them: you're probably already paying for them. Whether or not you know it, your employees are already finding and completing non-degree programs. They're just doing so with approval and funding from their supervisors outside of tuition reimbursement - and consequently outside your line of vision. And that means you have no control of how the money's being spent.

Not sure? Consider this: roughly $3Billion is spent in the US each year (primarily by employers) on industry and profession-specific certifications (e.g. PMI, SHRM, Microsoft). But few companies have any clue how many are completed by their employees or how much is spent on them (do you?). The same is true for conferences, CEUs and certificates (note: certificates are a group of courses built around a work-oriented skill-set, sometimes with college credit attached; certifications evaluate individuals' pre-acquired knowledge, skills, or competencies against predetermined standards, normally related to a specific job function).

You Can't Manage What You Can't Measure

What does all of that mean? It means, as the old saw goes, you can't manage what you can't measure. Right now, with the rise of non-degree programs, you've got money being spent in small pockets across multiple budgets, with no oversight at a corporate level, no measurement of results, and no automated tracking in a corporate talent management system.

And this under-the-radar issue is only going to increase. Millennials are not shy about finding educational resources on their own - a survey showed that 70% of Millennials would go to Google to find a resource to learn a skill, versus only 12% who would look to HR. And as MOOCs such as Coursera and Udacity pivot to a fee-based model, and coding boot camps increase in popularity, you can expect to see more requests from employees for funding these kinds of programs.

What's needed, then, is a way to recognize non-degree programs' value as a legitimate, employer-funded option, and to use a managed program to bring them under the umbrella of a well-organized external education strategy. Tune in next week when we'll look at specific recommendations for how to do that.

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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.