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3 decisions executives should make when launching a tuition benefit program

A man stands holding a laptop while speaking to five others gathered around a table in an office room.

Is your organization building or expanding an employee tuition benefit program? Start here.

By Howard Burns
Senior director, Corporate and Workforce Education Unit
Oregon State University Ecampus

Any successful business knows that running an organization requires much more than offering a valuable service or product. It also requires the ability to recruit the right employees, retain talented workers and provide opportunities for them to hone their skills or develop new ones that align to innovation goals.

There isn’t one right way to achieve these goals, but there is one that is producing great results now more than ever — offering tuition assistance or reimbursement benefits to your employees. As staffing challenges persist, a tuition benefit program:

  • Demonstrates to employees that you will invest in their professional success.
  • Offers incentives aimed at preparing workers for career pathways within the organization.
  • Is an effective way to create an internal pool of qualified candidates.

But how do you start a tuition benefit program?

Companies often share that they know a lot about their industry, but they’re not sure how to work with universities in this manner. That’s to be expected.

At Oregon State University Ecampus, we help organizations navigate these fundamental questions every day. We’ve developed collaborations and established relationships over the years with a diverse mix of organizations across North America including Amazon, the federal government, Peet’s Coffee, the Professional Hockey Players’ Association and more.

With that firsthand experience in mind, here are the top three actions that leaders should take to evolve their businesses and positively impact their workforce.

1. Articulate a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve.

Are you trying to train existing employees to do new jobs within your company? This is especially important as job requirements evolve. In a 2022 study by Deloitte, 65% of workers said the skills and capabilities required to perform their jobs had changed in the previous two years.

If reskilling and retraining is a goal of your organization, you may choose to get specific about which programs you will cover. Chipotle, through a partnership with Guild, offers full-pay tuition benefits to employees, with a focus on programs that are specific to their business including hospitality management and business administration.

Or are you more focused on recruiting and retention? If this is the case, offering a more diverse portfolio of programs may fit the bill. Amazon enables its workers to choose from a broad collection of academic offerings — more than 300 Oregon State degrees, certificates and microcredentials online or on campus — through the Amazon Career Choice program.

2. Decide how much of a benefit to offer and the payment structure.

You should determine early on how your organization would like to structure the disbursement of the tuition benefits, how much the company is willing to fund per student and who is eligible.

When you collaborate with Oregon State Ecampus, you are in the driver’s seat in terms of how to structure the billing process and eligibility. Our agility in these areas allows you to tailor the plan to your needs.

Here are a few examples of benefit types and payment agreements:

  • Capped benefit: You set a maximum dollar amount you’re willing to pay for a student’s educational expenses in a given year. Once that amount is reached, the student assumes financial responsibility for additional tuition and course material expenses. Employers can offer up to $5,250 per year in tax-deductible tuition reimbursement for college courses, and the benefit is not taxable to employees.
  • Full-pay benefit: Some corporate collaborators elect to cover all tuition expenses for employees, which enables workers to focus on gaining new skills and knowledge while maintaining their careers — all without the financial burden of a higher education.
  • Direct bill: Your organization is billed directly for every student employee’s tuition and materials. This allows the individual to focus on their education rather than balancing payments and financial deadlines.

3. Consult with Oregon State to create a tailored collaboration to fit your needs.

Your organization has unique innovation goals, unique employee knowledge gaps and a unique purpose. That’s why we’ll co-create a custom plan that fits your organization’s needs and aligns with the best interests of both the employer and employee.

In the process we’ll offer details on our decades-long track record of success in delivering the highest-quality learning opportunities online to working professionals. And you’ll learn how your workforce needs can help influence the types of programs OSU delivers online.

Offering a tuition benefit program will help your organization stand out as a preferred employer and differentiate itself in a highly competitive landscape. In the process, you’ll prove to your employees that you’re committed to their advancement, and you’ll help develop a more expertly skilled workforce that can help your organization flourish.

Collaborate with Oregon State, and build for the future now.

To learn more about the benefits of collaborating with Oregon State University, contact the director of the OSU Ecampus Corporate and Workforce Education Unit, Howard Burns — or visit our website.

Send Howard an email

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