Most companies house Tuition Assistance Programs (TAP) in the Employee Benefits Department.  Their responsibility is only for the administrative functions – process and tracking data for tuition payment or employee reimbursement.  But, the reason your organization offers TAP extends way beyond a process and paper trail – or at least, it should.  Employee education is part of your organization’s learning initiatives.  The education comes from academia, but the provider selection comes from your employees and they need training to learn how to be a good consumer of higher education.

Most often, employees are left on their own to find schools to attend.  This may sound like a gallant gesture, but it is really doing a disservice to your employees and company.  Just like any selection process, employees must be equipped with information about going back to school – What options does higher education provide to adult students? What college and universities offer those options? How to best select an education provider?  Employees won’t find these answers under their TAP policy.

There are over 4,000 academic institutions in our country.  Thousands of colleges and universities offer online degrees and many from highly acclaimed campuses.  All this diversity in higher education breeds confusion.  Most employees select a college or university by asking a friend for advice, seeing an advertisement the school put on a billboard, radio, TV, mail or directly contacting a campus salesperson.  The latter is like going to a Chevrolet dealer and asking what car you should buy.  Of course the campus will try and get your employee to enroll at their school.

These resources are not professional means for employees to spend thousands to millions of your educational dollars.  Even managers don’t know all the information about curriculums, accessibility, locations, online options and degree programs offered by educational providers.  Training needs to provide supplemental programs that will enhance your investment for employee education.

Here are some pointers that training can provide to every employee before they enroll with any college or university – whether new to education or already in a degree program:

  1. Back to School Workshops/Webinars – These introductory webinars should include information about career goals, lifestyle, learning styles, academic skills, study skills, time management, accreditation, admission criteria, majors,  how to transfer credit and use low-cost community colleges, and discuss various formats such as accelerated, classroom and online degrees.  Additionally, include information about options to gain college credit for life/work learning through national/institutional testing programs, portfolio for credit and ways to obtain credit for military training, certificates and licenses, and formal job training.  Many well-known schools offer this option for credit.  Knowing how to use higher education reduces the time to complete a degree, significantly decreases cost, and increases your talent.
  2. College Search Database – If your company has employees across the country, then there are thousands of schools for use by employees to complete academic degrees.  An employee may be enrolled with a program that is not as appropriate for their career goals as another college or online degree option.   To determine which school to select, employees need a comprehensive, centralized database of every school in the country that offers degrees in the fields of study that your tuition assistance dollars will support.  This way, employees and their managers can search schools by the location, cost, major, formats and denote which schools offer ways to reduce the time and cost to complete a degree.  Managers and employees can compare and analyze which degree program is best for career growth, corporate investment, and fit to meet business goals.
  3. Obtain College Credit for Training Courses – Many in-house training courses have great depth, theory and instruction.  Often, those established courses can obtain direct, portable college credit for transfer to any academic institution.  This is not just one school accepting training for its degree programs, but a means to have applicable college credit used at any college or university.  This kind of partnership is very hard to find and create, but is a significant way training can rid duplication of costs for the same learning paid by training dollars and tuition reimbursement dollars.  If a training course in management, finance, marketing or other areas of your company has the criteria to be evaluated by a university and receive college credit, then employees who take that training can have pre-approved college credit to use towards their degree programs too.  This saves employees time to complete a degree and gets the best value for your learning investments.

Training and tuition assistance should be linked in their efforts to create high performing employees for sustainable talent management.  Let the HR/Benefits Department continue to “administer” the external education operations, but offer supplemental tools for employees to be wise consumers of academic education and options.  These tools are separate from the TAP policy, program and process, and are produced by training and/or organizational development departments.  By assuring employees find the right fit, learning providers support successful graduation, reduce costs, and create a best practice external education program.