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Five Common Mistakes of Tuition Assistance Programs

Companies introduce Tuition Assistance Programs (TAP) to benefit employees by reimbursing part or all of their college tuition and fees.  While the TAP is a great benefit for employees, the policy itself may be poorly written and difficult to interpret.  These policies may actually force employees to reject some educational options to save time and money off a degree plan and the company will spend more than expected because of the way the policy is written.

Here are 5 common mistakes of the educational assistance policies;

Mistake #1:  Policy does not specify that degrees must be taken at regionally accredited colleges.

By allowing employees to take degree plans at non-regionally accredited colleges, thousands of dollars of tuition assistance are wasted.  These non-regionally accredited programs have no weight with hiring managers who may consider them as equivalent to a “diploma mill”.  If an employee pursues a non-accredited bachelor’s degree, he/she will rarely be admitted to a master’s degree.

Mistake #2:  Policy only approves degrees, not Certificates and Certifications.

Certificates, certifications and other short courses are becoming very popular ways to increase skills and knowledge.  An engineer who already has a Master’s degree may need a certificate in Business Essentials or a Certification in Project Management, but would not be allowed to take these programs if the TAP only pays for degrees.

Mistake #3:  Policy does not reimburse for Prior Learning Assessment or Credit-by-Examination

A private university might charge $1000/class for an English Composition course.  The employee may be able to test out of English Composition by using the College Level Examination Program (CLEP).  CLEP tests are national tests and are accepted by most colleges in the country.  The cost of a CLEP exam is $80 for the 6 unit English Composition.  Another employee may be able to write essays and show documentation that he/she understands Principles of Management.  Instead of taking the class at $1000, he/she could waive this class through Prior Learning Assessment (PLA).  Military vets can use their military courses to gain college credits, but the policy may not reimburse for this less expensive option.

Mistake #4:  Policy does not specify acceptable college majors.

Without a list of approved majors, employees will take classes and degrees in areas that will help them gain better employment or more salary and may leave the company after completing the degree.   If a high-tech company does not hire nurses, then the TAP should not approve that degree.

It is frustrating for employees not to know if their degree will be approved because of the vagueness of the TAP.  Phrases such as “Career-Related Degree Programs” or “Majors that benefit the company” can be interpreted differently by different managers.  This can result in one employee gaining approval for a certain degree or major and another employee being rejected.

Mistake #5:  After an employee uses the TAP and graduates, there is no recognition for hard work and dedication.

Some companies do not want to recognize employees who finish their degrees because this would bring attention to a policy only used as a recruitment tool.  However, for those companies who use their educational benefit as a Talent Management Tool (both for recruitment and retaining employees), recognition is a way to promote a program that helps employees grow.

A well-written and thought-out Tuition Assistance Policy can help a company recruit top employees and help retain current employees while benefiting their educational growth.  A poorly written policy will only add frustration to degree-seeking employees and maybe even cost the company money by not allowing options to save tuition costs.