TuitionManager Improves Transparency and Enables Southwest Gas to Increase Participation in Tuition Reimbursement Program
Southwest Gas Corporation was founded in 1931 and is a subsidiary of Southwest Gas Holdings Inc. The company provides natural gas service to over 2 million residential, commercial, and industrial customers in Arizona, Nevada, and portions of California. Southwest Gas is the largest distributor of natural gas in Arizona and Nevada.
The company offers a substantial tuition reimbursement policy as part of its employee benefits package to attract and retain employees. According to Dorothy Martin, a workforce development consultant, "a generous tuition assistance program will assist you in becoming an employer of choice for recruiting purposes, as well as help you reduce turnover, increase job productivity, and improve career mobility for employees who take advantage of the program."
Prior to implementing TuitionManager, Southwest Gas managed its tuition assistance program manually through email. HostedHR spoke with Erin Henlin, Manager of Organizational Development, about the challenge of managing their tuition reimbursement program prior to implementing TuitionManager, how the company found TuitionManager as a solution to replace their manual process, and the great benefits their team has experienced from their TuitionManager system.
It's increased our transparency in the process by 1,000% and that's really the biggest benefit.
Manager, Organizational Development
Erin provided us with a detailed understanding of how Southwest Gas managed their tuition reimbursement benefit prior to implementing TuitionManager. "We've offered tuition reimbursement for a long time as an organization and it was always a very manual process. We were using a paper form. Back in the old days it was actually a triplicate form so there were different copies. We've been doing it for a long time. But when I started it was a word document that people would find and fill out and they would submit it, usually on paper, we did get to email shortly before we transitioned to TuitionManager, but it was still a very manual process. Our administrative person had a big spreadsheet that she kept track of everybody on, she had an Access database for a while. It was all her. She received all the forms. She did all the rule enforcement. We do have a policy that has gone through a couple cycles of reviews over the years. She managed that whole process. She would get the form from the student. She would update them on how much they had left. It was just an extremely manual process. We started to market the program. Our department started to gain a little bit of traction within the organization, just with other learning opportunities, and our volume started to increase, modestly, but when you are in a very manual process, even a modest increase is a big deal."
Erin went onto explain that instead of being just one aspect of their tuition admins job responsibilities, administering their tuition reimbursement program began taking up all of the employee's time. "It started to be her full-time job, which technically it wasn't supposed to be." As a result, Southwest Gas began looking for a new process to manage their tuition reimbursement program. Erin explained that internally they began asking the following questions in order to improve their tuition reimbursement program. "How do we streamline this process? How do we make it paper-less?" Additionally, Erin described their objective in creating a more efficient process and giving employees more visibility into their benefit, so they could plan accordingly as they enrolled in courses. "We just wanted there to be transparency to the process. So that it wasn't just this black hole. Because sometimes people would submit things and if she (the tuition administrator) didn't tell them that it got submitted, we'd get it three and four more times because they were just like 'I want to make sure you got it.' We just wanted there to be some transparency in the process, so people felt like they knew what was going on every step of the way."
For Southwest Gas, the solution was to reach out to several providers and find the best option for their current needs, within budget. Erin explained their decision in implementing TuitionManager when comparing it to a competitor. "We looked at EdAssist and HostedHR. Those are the two that we were considering. EdAssist we had recommended to us by a University that we were partnering with, but it was five times the cost of HostedHR."
Erin continued that choosing TuitionManager was an easy, clear choice. "HostedHR is a perfect solution for what we needed to just automate the process and allow us to make some enhancements to the process as well. That's why we went with HostedHR. It's easy to use, it was something that we could easily learn how to use and administer, and it checked all the boxes of making the process more transparent, taking it out of paper, and it was a perfect fit for where we were as an organization."
TuitionManager has provided exceptional benefits to Southwest Gas including an automated and paperless process, transparency, metric visibility, exceptional support, and efficient communication.
Automated & Paperless Process
Erin said the benefits of TuitionManager were instantly noticeable in that "immediately we saw a lift in the process not being so heavy and complex. Because she (the tuition administrator) was able to get everything electronically, the students could now really manage the process themselves. And that was a huge thing. She wasn't constantly having to chase things down, figure out where things were, it was all electronic, so those electronic approvals changed our lives. Getting routed to the supervisor then coming back to us, I mean to me that was probably one of the biggest benefits, because we could very easily see where everything was. The paperless application process has been absolutely huge for us."
TuitionManager automatically routes tuition applications through company's approval chain based on their tuition reimbursement policy. For Southwest Gas this meant their tuition administrator no longer had to maintain a spreadsheet and Access database to keep track of everyone's application and constantly update participants on their remaining tuition reimbursement balance. Manually calculating balances and tracking the status of applications is a tedious, stressful, time-consuming process. This cumbersome burden was lifted from the tuition administrator after implementing TuitionManager.
Furthermore, TuitionManager's electronic process eliminates paper-shuffling, storage, and retrieval. Not having to track down paper applications or find them in a filing cabinet can greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to process a single application. Eliminating paper is not only a huge time savings, but also a huge cost savings and benefit to the environment.
After automating its tuition reimbursement process electronically, Southwest Gas employees are able to manage and see the status of tuition applications themselves. Erin commented that the transparency TuitionManager has provided to administrators and employees is the biggest benefit of all. "It's increased our transparency in the process by 1,000% and that's really the biggest benefit that I think we have experienced and has given us the most lift. People don't have to come to us and say where is my application because they can get into the system and see where it is."
Being able to know the status of an application was empowering for Southwest Gas employees. TuitionManager users that were used to the manual process were thrilled with the new software and its capabilities. "We got rave reviews from the students that were in the process," explained Erin. Southwest Gas employees appreciated the transparency of the new system and the ease of the electronic process. "This is so much easier, I can actually see things," were the comments that Erin received from the initial employees utilizing TuitionManager.
Another great benefit of utilizing TuitionManager is its reporting capabilities. A client going from a manual process, that is usually very difficult to track, to utilizing TuitionManager experiences an enormous improvement in metric visibility and being able to provide meaningful analytics regarding tuition reimbursement spend and participation. Erin is now able to run reports and provide valuable insights to her leadership team. "We can pull reports on what's going on, how much we have paid out, the dashboards are a huge thing. Being able to tell my leadership, our volume is up this much, this is how much we are projected to payout so we can budget more effectively, I mean it's been really great for us."
Having the ability to instantaneously pull tuition statistics and information is an enormous time savings and makes reporting easy and efficient for administrators. Erin explained that it is extremely helpful having dashboards summarizing their tuition information. "At our fingertips we have all of the information that we need. So if we get somebody asking, how much have we paid out this year, or how many applicants do we have, or what kind of application volume do we have right now, we don’t have to go digging in several different places, we've got everything in one spot."
Southwest Gas administrators provide Level 1 support to their employees regarding questions on how to use TuitionManager or insight into the specific requirements of their tuition reimbursement policy. However, when administrators need assistance with an employee question or functionality within their TuitionManager system they are able to reach out to HostedHR anytime for Level 2 support. "Anytime we have an issue, if something breaks, or something doesn't seem to be working quite right, or if we just have a question, it's been very easy to get support," mentioned Erin. "We have been really appreciative of that."
One of the biggest advantages of TuitionManager, compared to other tuition management systems, is that Southwest Gas is able to manage its program at an affordable price. Being able to easily manage its tuition reimbursement program internally gives Southwest Gas greater authority, transparency, and control of their tuition benefit program. This is only possible through an intuitive system design that is easy to use and has exceptional support. HostedHR's support team responds to all inquiries within one business day and strives to get back to almost all requests in the same day. And since the system is so easy to use, these requests are infrequent.
Prior to implementing TuitionManager, Erin explained how sometimes employees would submit applications multiple times if the tuition administrator did not respond with acknowledgement that all of the information was correctly submitted. TuitionManager now automatically sends email notifications letting employees know that an application was submitted, pre-approved, edited, approved, or rejected. These automatic email notifications are a huge time savings for tuition administrators and provide confirmation and up-to-date information to sometimes anxious employees.
Erin went on to explain how communication has improved with TuitionManager. "We can communicate through the system too. We don't have to send emails constantly. We have a record of what we have answered for the student, it's all in the notes. We can clearly see that it is not being run out of someone's inbox."
Having a record of all communication between employees, supervisors, and tuition administrators means that everyone understands next steps and who is responsible for the next action. No longer are follow-up emails necessary to check on an application status. Tuition administrators do not have to search through emails to find missing information or past communication from employees or supervisors. Everyone has easy, constant access to the communication.
TuitionManager also has the ability to make announcement on the homepage to all users. Erin told us how "being able to put our own announcements up on the homepage is huge, it just helps with communication." Tuition administrators are able to communicate directly on the homepage when there are new partnerships or policy changes, which means that these announcements are the first thing employees see when logging-in. Homepage announcements have been especially beneficial at year-end when HR admins want to communicate deadlines for documentation to be submitted for reimbursement.