Will Education Benefit Offerings Increase Soon?

While some employers have had tuition reimbursement programs in place for more than 20 years, a survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found several factors are keeping employers from offering student loan repayment assistance benefits.

Record high college tuition and a tight labor market are prompting many employers to revisit their education benefits, according to a survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. Ninety-two percent offer some type of education benefit.

The most common is tuition assistance/reimbursement, offered by 63% of employers, followed by in-house training seminars (61%), attendance at educational conferences (51%), continuing education classes (50%), coverage for licensing and exams (44%), personal development courses (35%) and 529 college savings plans (10%).

Fifty-seven percent of employers have had tuition reimbursement programs in place between six and 20 years, and 27% have had them for 21 years or more.

Eighty-seven percent reimburse employees after the end of their studies if they meet certain requirements. The most common amount paid to employees is between $5,000 and $5,999. Fifty-seven percent require a payback of some kind from their employees in exchange for tuition reimbursement, with 54% requiring their employees to remain employed with the firm one year after finishing their education.

However, “only 1% to 5% of employees take advantage of tuition reimbursement provided by their employer,” notes Julie Stich, vice president of content at the Foundation. “This means offering educational assistance isn’t a huge financial commitment for organizations in comparison to other types of benefit offerings. Tuition reimbursement helps to attract and retain employees—especially younger ones who appreciate the opportunity to grow in their careers.”

The survey also found that, currently, a mere 4% of employers offer some type of student loan repayment assistance benefit. Two percent are in the process of implementing one, and 23% are considering doing so in the future.

Asked what is keeping them from offering a student loan repayment assistance benefit, employers first say the high cost, followed by the complexity of implementing one, resentment among employees who have already paid off their student loans or who never had any, and turnover among employees once the debt is repaid.

Among those offering such a program, they say they are doing so to attract and retain talent, increase employee satisfaction and loyalty and keep employees current on evolving skill sets required for their role.

“Student loan repayment is a very new benefit offering,” Stich says. “With high interest from employees and no firm governmental guidelines in place, it’s something to watch closely in the future.”