While there are many potential benefits of tuition assistance programs (or TAPs), the challenge for business leaders is to manage investments in employee education in a way that maximizes returns--both for the employer and the employee. Not only does a TAP need to encourage the development of specific skills in your workforce, but it also needs to empower employees to pursue their educational goals.
For companies who want to launch a new TAP—or revamp an existing one—it's hard to know where to begin. To that end, I connected with John Zappa, CEO of EdLink to identify a few key steps to get you started on your strategic tuition reimbursement program.
1. Identify Goals, Support with Investments
Work with your senior management team to set quantifiable, measurable goals. Address the question of cost early on, using your goals as a guiding compass. The more critical a goal, the larger your investment in a TAP. Alternatively, you can follow industry standards for less-than-critical goals.
You might consider breaking qualifying coursework into groups. Here is an example:
2. Establish Guidelines, Communicate Expectations and Opportunities
Clear guidelines and qualifications will help to ensure a TAP supports your business goals. As such, they should address what skills are valuable to the employer, and why. Make it easy for employees to understand your business needs and how to make educated choices that support those needs. Talk to employees about your tuition program in the onboarding process and periodically hold Q&A sessions to bolster interest and adoption.
3. Balance Guidelines with Flexibility and Opportunity
While guidelines are important, you should also offer employees an opportunity to pursue their personal goals is also important. By being flexible, and offering assistance for four-year degrees, continuous learning, and applied learning coursework, employees can pursue educational goals in whatever time frame suits their needs.
Furthermore, don't exclude courses unrelated to an employee’s current position. These provide opportunities for employees to acquire new skills and knowledge beyond the boundaries of their current role. Self-improvement increases employee satisfaction (which aids in retention) and creates more rounded employees.
4. Measure Program Outcomes, Adjust Accordingly
For your program to have the greatest impact (and lasting success), it should treat it as an investment in a larger talent management strategy. To that end, measuring program outcomes--and how they affect other business initiatives--is essential.
Track changes in retention and engagement, and compare data against nonparticipants. And cross reference this data with things like customer satisfaction or changes in sales numbers for hard data on the value of the program.
If the program is driving desired outcomes, consider allocating more resources to allow more employees to participate. If not, survey employees to identify the reasons. Were guidelines and qualifications too rigid? Was course completion an issue? Were work schedules an obstacle?
Effective TAPs are Smart—Not All-Encompassing
Investing in employee education is an excellent way to foster higher retention rates and improve employee performance, but at the end of the day, you’re working with limited resources. Whether you’re creating a new TAP or revamping an old one, remember that an effective plan doesn’t have to be large. It has to be smart. By matching company needs with employee goals, you can encourage workforce learning without a significant budget. That begins with business strategy and proactive program management. The rest is up to your employees.
About the Author: Kyle Lagunas is the HR Analyst at Software Advice—an online resource for reviews and comparisons of talent management and learning management software. A Gen Yer and tech enthusiast, he focuses on forward-thinking best practices and compelling conversations in the world of work.