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How Tuition Reimbursement Can Retain Employees and Locate New, Top Talent

Company wellness plans have been under the microscope lately, for a few reasons. Priorities have shifted toward health and wellness in all categories, including mental and financial wellness. As a means of retaining employees, unique or enhanced benefit options, like tuition reimbursement, is one such way to entice employees to stay, considering the financial strain the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on people across the world.

With more than 40% of Americans spending less money than usual since the onset of the pandemic, businesses across various industries have been impacted by these reserved spending habits (Pew Research Center). The promise of tuition reimbursement can assist employees in not only decreasing their overall debt, but retaining some of their well-earned funds to bolster their personal accounts.

Other employees may see the tuition reimbursement as another option to further their career or expand an existing skillset or learn a new one. An employer who is willing to reimburse a percentage or front the cost of continued education expenses shows employees that the organization is investing in the future of their employees. These actions keep employee motivation and culture high by showing employees they can grow within the organization.

Employers should not feel obligated to accept applications for tuition reimbursement for any educational program (defined broadly as any form of instruction or training aiming to further improve or develop an employee) or class. Determine the courses, program length, dollar amount per set period (i.e. per semester, per calendar year), and whether or not additional expenses will be covered, like books, parking or other non-education related costs. Expenses not typically covered by any tuition or education assistance program includes meals, lodging, and transportation, among other expenses. Then, decide if there will be any requirements for the employee to meet, such as a grade point average, class grade, or a number of hours completed (either online or in-person).

Once an employee expresses their desire to partake in the tuition reimbursement program, managers should feel empowered to work with the employee to understand their continued education goals and how those tie back into their current role or a different role within the company. Performance evaluations and metrics should include ways for the employee to put into practice the elements of their education program for a more realistic, first-hand experience.

Businesses looking to attract or retain existing talent should review employee benefits plans and consider investing in wellness programs, including financial wellness programs (like tuition reimbursement), for the coming open enrollment period. If a tuition or education assistance program will be added for the upcoming benefit year, consider building a policy and procedures document that can be added to the employee handbook to support this new initiative.

Here are some examples of topics that should be included in the new policy:

  • Eligibility Requirements
    Explain in this section who is eligible to participate. All employees, just those who have been with the company for a certain length of time, just those who are a certain employee level (i.e. supervisors and above), those part of certain departments or partaking in job-specific coursework, etc. Also, it will be important to address if the employee needs to stay employed at the company for a specific length of time or they would be subject to repay the benefit amount.
  • Benefit Payout
    Explain how the benefit amount will be paid (i.e. upon registration, upon passing grade, etc.)
  • Loan Repayment
    This may not be an option for all employers. Address whether or not your organization will recognize loan repayment as part of the tuition or education assistance program.
  • Unexpected Employment Changes
    If an employee leaves the organization for whatever reason, what happens to their eligibility, and will they be expected to pay back any paid funds within a certain timeframe.

Whether making the decision to start offering employee tuition reimbursement and education assistance as part of the voluntary benefits for your organization, or designing a new policy, or simply exploring the idea of beefing up your financial wellness benefits, there is a lot to consider.

To learn more about standing up your new program, training managers on how to maintain and promote this program, or using this benefit as a way to recruit new employees, contact QBS to meet with a professional HR representative to help get started.

Sources: Pew Research Center (2021): A Year Into the Pandemic, Long-Term Financial Impact Weighs Heavily on Many Americans