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Tuition Aid Programs: They Look Great on the Company Brochure, But Are Hard as #*#* to Use...

Hi Kris - 

I'm a benefits manager in Atlanta and I'm looking for some best practices related to Tuition Aid Programs offered by companies across America.  What do you have for me?



Hi J - 

Thanks for the note - I browsed around for a bit and didn't find anything very interesting... My experience would tell me the major program components that serve as levers to differentiate a tuition aid program would be the following:

  1. The amount available annually - $$$
  2. What's eligible for reimbursement - what type of programs qualify for reimbursement?  Wide open or only job related?
  3. Eligibility - how long do you have to be at the company to get the benefit?
  4. Performance Required for Payback - do you need an "A" or a "B" to get reimbursed?  If so, how are non-traditional classes treated?
  5. Payback agreements - How much time do you have to be with the company until you clear the requirement to pay back the reimbursement granted by the program? 1 year, 2 years?
I think the last point is the most important lever.  Tuition Aid is one of those things that looks great on the company brochure, but it's hard to use.  People have kids, are trying to live their lives, etc., so only the most ambitious take advantage of the program.  With that in mind, looking at traditional penetration rates of the program is the best practice when trying to budget, and payback agreements will help give your leadership some piece of mind that the folks who use the benefit are the ones most likely to stay.
Easy to promote, hard to use.  A cynic would call it the perfect company benefit - drives positive good will but most folks will never utilize it ...
Sorry I can't help more than that - and remember...stay thirsty my friend.


CC Coleman

In the mid-90's I oversaw a tuition reimbursement plan for a F500 company. There was no budget for the plan and no ROI ever calculated. This was a company that only hired from top colleges so hiring managers placed no value on the classes, degrees or graduate degrees it paid for (and there was a fair number of Berkeley MBAs being obtained). The majority of employees left the company soon after obtaining their new degree. The problem was not with the lack of a payback agreement rather it was the lack of respect for anyone willing to get a "night" degree.

My advice to employers, make the plan open to all and as generous as possible. Then assess the ROI. Do the employees who made the effort provide additional value? If so, utilize them more fully and take advantage of your investment.

My advice to employees, ask for an appointment with the plan administrator (or their admin if they process the paperwork) to better understand the "hoops". If you have the time and the energy, it is well worth the effort.


Ed reimbursement doesn't have to be "tuition" per se. Helping people pay for their profession certifications (PHR/PMI/CPLP)or even membership in a professional organization can end up being cheaper than full tutition, helps the employee keep credentials that the org. gets to advertise, and gives them access to resources they can use on the job.


I have to agree with CC Coleman's points. If your company is offering a tuition aid program, you have to be willing and able to offer the "what next" for those employees who take advantage of the program to get their degree. Make it part of your talent management/succession planning strategy. People leave after using tuition aid programs to get their degree because OTHER companies are willing to promote them.

HR Drama Queen

Guess I am old-fashioned, but after 35 years in HR management I have not seen a program with a net-positive ROI and truly do not see the point of offering college tuition assistance. I am most impressed by the employee who takes some of the very generous salary we pay and uses it to better herself on her own time and on her own dollar. Besides, how is it fair to the MBA who put himself through college that I should pay for the education of someone who did not, just because the latter happens to work for me? I don't get it, big Dan.

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