Paying higher education costs is no easy feat. High tuition, the cost of books and materials, fees and other charges often make it difficult for students to complete their education. This is especially true for nontraditional students who might find themselves locked out of scholarship and loan programs geared more toward traditional age students.
One source of help for nontraditional students to address higher education costs is an employer tuition assistance program. The Education Commission of the States (ECS) outlines principles of good financial aid programs; it is easy to see how tuition assistance programs often follow these principles and provide a way for students to meet higher education costs.
One principle that ECS says should guide financial aid programs is that they are broadly inclusive. They should include all students’ educational pathways and allow equal access to students of all ages and backgrounds. A program that is broadly inclusive will also increase eligible students’ awareness of the financial aid availability.
Inclusivity can also be a guiding principle of employer tuition assistance programs. Southern New Hampshire College for America says is important that an employer TAP also helps the most students possible meet higher education costs. CfA says being inclusive is a TAP best practice. “Too often, organizations restrict TAPs to a select group of employees, such as high performers, or leave it to the discretion of a frontline manager to choose the workers for the program. That gives the wrong impression to frontline employees who might benefit most from the TAP.” If employees don’t think they are included in a tuition program, they may never take the initial steps to pursue higher education, and as a result they may never join the ranks of the highest achievers. “If you want to maximize the tuition assistance benefit, don’t make it exclusive,” says CfA manager of business and partnership development Patricia Shields says. “It’s counter to improving engagement, culture, and bottom-line performance to make people feel like this benefit is not really for me.”
A second principle that ECS outlines as part of a good financial aid plan is that it should be goal-driven and data-informed. Aid programs should align with measurable state education and workforce goals. State financial aid should be able to help states realize their goals for student enrollment and completion.
Likewise, a TAP program can help businesses reach goals. It can help a business recruit and retain talented employees. It can increase employees’ productivity as they develop their skills, and it can give employees chances to experience career upward mobility and to reach their career goals. SHRM workforce consultant Dorothy Martin says, “Tuition assistance programs can also be tied to other corporate business objectives, such as developing specific skill sets, creating talent management strategies and managing leadership development programs.” Using TAP to reach company goals is a strategy that also benefits employees by helping them meet higher education costs. By using TAP to its fullest advantage, Martin says, “HR leaders can push tuition assistance programs far beyond being simply another employee benefit. Instead, these programs can become an integral part of an organization’s human capital and leadership development strategy—one that continues to pay dividends years into the future.”
Employers have no control over whether or not their employees will qualify or be able to receive financial aid. States set restrictions and boundaries for eligibility, and financial aid is often subject to political agendas. Employers, however, have a powerful resource for meeting higher education costs, a resource that is beneficial to the provider as well as the recipient. In defining successful tuition assistance programs, Straighterline says, “You can make a big difference in your employees’ lives and your company’s bottom line by investing in the education of your workforce. Education is the benefit that keeps on giving in terms of higher employee retention rates and a continually learning workforce. A continually evolving workforce helps keep your company competitive and adaptable.”
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