Stretching your ‘benefit dollar’ during the economic crisis
Employer-sponsored tuition assistance programs may be one way that organizations can stretch their benefits dollars during the economic crisis. That is, according to Bundled Value: Working learners' perceptions of tuition benefit programs, a University of Phoenix Research Institute study conducted during the economic crisis in 2010. The national study of more than 6,700 employees at Fortune 1000™ companies found workers greatly value the educational opportunities offered by their organizations.
“Adult students consistently described how educational benefits enable them to continue their pursuit of higher education without accumulating significant student loan debt,” researchers Dr. Leslie Miller, Dr. Debbie Ritter-Williams, and Dr. Ruby Rouse said. “Employees participating in tuition assistance programs described multidimensional benefits — or bundled value — related to personal growth, marketability, job loyalty and engagement.”
How employees value tuition assistance
In the study, employees, who attended more than 350 different educational institutions, were asked a series of closed questions about the value of employer-sponsored tuition assistance programs. Workers’ comments fell into five categories:
- Education – Earning an education and/or the benefit of continuing to work while taking classes
- Career – Job skills and/or career development, including improved opportunities for career advancement and promotion
- Cost savings – Expenses associated with pursuing a college education, such as the ability to earn a degree for little or no cost
- Personal growth – The individual’s acquired skills resulting in pride and a sense of accomplishment
- Engagement – The employee’s relationship with the company, such as enhanced loyalty or increased value
Several working learners commented about how their tuition benefits empowered them to pursue a degree at an affordable cost. About 77% of study participants’ open-ended comments described tuition assistance programs as a “bargain” since they could earn their degrees with little to no out-of-pocket investment. One employee in the study shared, “The tuition program has allowed me to obtain my degree, develop my skills, and grow within my career, while not accumulating extreme financial debt that I will carry around for many years.”
In addition to the financial benefits, working adults also described psychological benefits associated with employer-sponsored educational programs.
“I am still paying back my student loans from my undergraduate program,” one working learner shared. “I probably will be paying back for the rest of my life. It's wonderful to be able to achieve my goal of a graduate degree without having to worry about financing it."
About 20% of the open-ended comments by employees in the "Bundled Value" study described how they never would have been able to earn a college degree without their tuition benefits. One adult student shared:
"I am a single mother of four children, never experienced the college life … and because of [the employer-sponsored tuition assistance program] I am able to attend higher education. If I was not employed here, there would be no way I could work full time, pay my bills, raise my children and pay [for] and have time for college."
Other employees viewed their benefits as a salary enhancement. “I view [tuition assistance] as a $20,000 bonus,” one employee wrote, “because that is what I would have had to pay to earn a master's degree if I worked for any other company.”
During difficult economic times, employers should consider leveraging tuition assistance programs to communicate commitment to the education of their employees. Data from Bundled Value: Working learners' perceptions of tuition benefit programs study strongly suggests workers place high value on company-sponsored educational benefits — fostering appreciation and loyalty for their organizations.
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