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Tuition Assistance Program Best Practices

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Should I Reimburse Conferences, Certifications, and Training?

As you've undoubtedly heard many times before, a company is only as good as its people. And if your company isn't attracting top talent regularly, everything suffers, including your chances for employees to make outstanding contributions that lead to more customers/clients, long-term success, and increased revenue.

So how do you keep your company at the top of the list of the most desirable candidates out there - as well as keep your existing employees happy, satisfied, and motivated so they don't decide to pursue other opportunities?

You offer enticing job benefits, like tuition reimbursement, and reimbursements for things like conferences, certifications, and training to show prospective and existing employees that your company is investing in their current and future success.

Simon Sinek, author of "Start With Why," aptly said, "Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first." And while that passion for an employer is cultivated by many factors, the benefits offered are a crucial component.

Options for Every Budget

No matter the size of the budget you're working with, you can create an attractive education assistance policy to match.

For example, if your budget is large, you can offer a cap of X amount that each employee can take advantage of every year in your choice of ways, from conferences (you can specify if it must be in-state or if travel is allowed) to classes in local universities/community colleges, as well as certifications specific to each employees' role and interests.

If your budget is small, you can limit the education assistance to X amount that goes toward online classes each year, as they are often much more affordable than a conference - yet still deliver benefits to employees.

Conferences can cost upwards of 1k just in the ticket price alone, and that's before factoring in travel, hotel, and food expenses. These additional costs can make conferences unrealistic for smaller businesses with less of a budget to put toward educational assistance. However, virtual conferences that offer the same information for a fraction of the price are a great, budget-friendly solution.

Setting Guidelines for Your Educational Assistance Policy

There are many guidelines to consider when it comes to offering educational assistance, and all need to be outlined clearly in each employee's contract upon hiring.

  • Will you offer educational assistance to both part-time and full-time employees? If so, how will the benefits differ between the two?
  • Is the benefit contingent upon the employee working at your company for a certain length of time before they can take advantage of these benefits?
  • Are there any deliverables required before an employee can gain access to educational assistance? (A quota they need to meet/commission they need to earn/hours they need to put in, etc.)
  • If travel is allowed, will you pay for airfare, hotel, transportation, and meals? (Will you require an itemized receipt or offer a per diem?)
  • Do the classes have to be job related?
  • How many classes are eligible for reimbursement each semester?
  • Does the employee need to receive a specific grade to qualify?
  • Will reimbursement be covered at 100%?
  • Will paid time off to attend classes be offered?

Once your guidelines are set, you will want to consider how you will hold employees accountable while they are attending conferences, obtaining certifications, or going to classes.

As Janine Popic, CMO of Dasheroo and founder of VerticalResponse, stated in an article for Inc., "If you send someone to a conference and they learn and network and create content, then that's great. But, to truly make it valuable, they've got to bring all that back and share it with all the folks who didn't get to go to the conference, but could benefit from the good stuff. And, having the extra responsibility of bringing something back to share encourages your team to be present and engaged during the conference."

Fees to Exclude

It's just as important to detail the fees you will pay for as the fees you won't pay for to avoid any potential employee confusion, dissatisfaction, and conflict.

  • Will you reimburse for parking?
  • Will you pay for, or reimburse, one-time registration fees?
  • Will you pay for books/any material needed to complete a course or class?

Clearly outline what the company will pay for/reimburse to protect the company, but also to keep employee satisfaction rates high.

Will the ROI Be High Enough?

Still not sold? Inc. says, "A recent Louis Harris and Associates poll reports among employees with poor training opportunities, 41% planned to leave within a year. Only 12% planned to leave among those who considered their company's training opportunities to be excellent, resulting in a retention rate more than two-thirds higher."

While companies are fueled by many factors, the employees are the backbone that can lead a company to greatness or cause it to crumble in defeat. And while you could overlook educational assistance, that decision could cause you to lose out on exceptional employees as well as lower your job satisfaction rates.

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