It may seem like a tired cliche to say a college education is an investment in your future, but calling it that doesn’t make it less true. Top paying fields like healthcare, finance, engineering, and technology often still require degrees at the associate level or above for applicants at even entry level jobs. Employers in those (and all) fields are always looking for good talent. Even with the idea of a good paying job on the other end of the degree, the fact that college admission rates are trending down is a sign that the high sticker price of higher education is a financial responsibility students are less likely to want to take on. 

That doesn’t change the fact that people need the skills a formal education offers. 87% of executives are experiencing skill gaps in the workplace. With technology ever evolving and the cry for companies to invest in the advancement of women and other underrepresented groups, there is a need for employers to play their part in shouldering the cost of higher education for their employees.

What many companies offer now is a start. While tuition reimbursement isn’t a standard benefit across the board, some of the biggest US employers offer some kind of assistance to employees who wish to pursue a degree. Seems great, but as with so many things, the strings are revealed in the fine print. Many employers don’t offer assistance until employees have worked a set amount of time and then only if they enroll in pre-determined partner institutions. Sometimes, there is an expectation that the employee exhaust all other avenues of financial assistance before the benefit kicks in (read: FAFSA applications, more student loans). The biggest issue, though, is that the majority of employers distribute tuition benefits as reimbursement after the end of study.

Asking employees to shoulder tuition payments initially, with the promise of paying them back, is good but not great. It doesn’t consider the personal circumstances each employee may be facing on top of the things we all juggle – housing costs, fluctuating fuel rates, overall inflation, etc. What if the employee is the sole provider for their family, already juggling a tight budget, and seeking education to advance up the career ladder? Do they have other substantial bills (medical, car payment, mortgages) to manage every month? Do they already carry student loans from a previous degree? If the answer to any of these is “yes,” suddenly the offered tuition reimbursement program, which expects the employee to shoulder the tuition payments initially and then get reimbursed from the company, seems like more of a hurdle and less of a benefit. 

These tuition benefits are streamlined to be easy for the employer and assume a single narrative for employees who may want to take advantage of them. The problem is, people rarely fit into “one size fits all” offerings. Life is messy. Personal circumstances are nuanced. 

Employers can do better. 

Even less standard than tuition reimbursement is any kind of company sponsored student loan payment offering. 65% of the current workforce has some kind of post-secondary education. One of the top driving forces behind the great resignation was low pay and lack of advancement opportunities. Imagine if those employees seeking higher compensation elsewhere had their employer offer to pay off part of their student loans. I expect that would have drastically shifted the conversation. 

At Keep, we believe a key to retaining top talent is compensating them in ways that support their personal goals and show them they are valued. Think of what it would mean for a single parent seeking a degree to have the tuition payments covered initially, rather than have to wait for the reimbursement to process weeks, months, or years later. Without the stress of shouldering those payments, that employee has more mental bandwidth to focus on their job and their life, which now includes homework! More importantly, they feel supported and seen by their employer.

The Keep platform allows employers to send vesting cash bonuses to prospective or current employees. This bonus could easily be sent in the form of a student loan repayment, where the payment is made upfront and the employee earns that reward over time, by staying with the company.

Incentives like tuition reimbursement can help employers attract top talent, assure retention, and increase employee morale and productivity. 

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