Is Tuition Reimbursement A Benefit All Companies Should Consider?

Richard Branson

By Christia Gibbons

Not every company offers tuition reimbursement, but every eligible employee should take advantage of it.

From Starbucks with its thousands of workers to Phoenix-based HMA Public Relations with its seven employees, the value of an education is honored – and better yet – paid for. Thousands of businesses offer some kind of college-tuition assistance, and apparently, others can be talked into it. By offering a tuition reimbursement program companies are showing employees and applicants that you value them. A tuition reimbursement program truly invests in each employee by providing them with advanced skills which will have a positive effect on their future whether that future is with your company or not.

Employees are Demanding Tuition Reimbursement

Since talented job applicants will be fielding multiple job offers companies need to beef up their offerings beyond a high salary. Many employees and potential employees recognize the value in higher education and are motivated to continue their education throughout their career. Abbie Fink, vice president and general manager of HMA Public Relations, said she made the reimbursement for helping her get a master’s degree at Arizona State University part of her hiring contract more than 20 years ago. At the time there wasn’t a formal tuition-reimbursement policy, but now HMA employees get help with college classes, as well as with other professional-development training opportunities. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be about public relations or leadership, but something that makes sense for us, the employee and the client,” Fink said, pointing out HMA paid for her to learn Spanish.


Employees Want To Be More Marketable

For Gen X and Millennial employees (generations of workers more likely to have multiple jobs and careers throughout their lifetime) having more education and professional training can make them more marketable. These generations also are keen on making a difference, and a college education and professional training can help do that. Savannah Ohl, the project and traffic coordinator at Elevation Marketing in Mesa, Ariz., said she sold her company on the idea of reimbursement, and now “I'm able to apply what I’m learning in school to my career in real time.” And, Perri Collins, then-communications manager at the Arizona Newspaper Association, said she knew she needed help paying for school as she was about to start her senior year at Arizona State University. “I was trying to brainstorm alternative ways to pay for school, she said.” A continuing advocate for employer-tuition assistance, Collins said, “I think it's a great way to build loyalty with employees, encouraging them to stay longer with the company. Plus, they get a better-educated workforce, which benefits the company in the long run.” Mike Kintner, director of marketing and operations for Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino near Phoenix, said not only did the parent company Caesar’s Entertainment help pay for his MBA from the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, he encourages his own staff to take advantage of the tuition-reimbursement benefits and take courses that relate to Caesars Entertainment business.

“You see them really grow and blossom, they go from just doing stuff to really understanding what’s going on to having a say and adding more value.”

Mike Kintner, Director of Marketing and Operations for Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino

Caesars Entertainment offers 90 percent up to $3,000 for undergraduate studies in a 12-month period, and up to $4,000 for graduate studies. The company also partners with Northcentral University in offering tuition discounts to its employees.

Economic Downfalls Caused Companies to Cut Tuition Reimbursement, But They Appear to Be Bouncing Back

However, and perhaps as a reflection of the economy or trends in changing benefits, tuition-reimbursement programs have taken somewhat of a hit in recent years. This during a time when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the cost of tuition consistently has increased faster than the overall inflation rate since 1981. Although fewer organizations are offering undergraduate tuition assistance in favor of additional health-care benefits today compared to 2010 – 54 percent versus 62 percent – according to a 2014 report by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), such a benefit is highly regarded. This year’s top 10 employers -- picked by the Families and Work Institute and the SHRM for the 2014 When Work Works Awards – offered employees tuition and training support as a benefit.  Well-known companies offering tuition assistance include: Apple; Chevron; Dell; FedEx; Google; Gap, Inc.; General Mills; Hilton Worldwide; Oregon State University; Monsanto; J.M. Smucker; Raytheon; UPS; Verizon; and U.S. Airways, according to College.lovetoknow.comNorthcentral University partners with many large companies in the U.S., including Caesars Entertainment, in offering tuition assistance As Abbie Fink of HMA PR said of being an employee, “It’s nice to have employers value your education and see what it does for you.”