A New Tuition Reimbursement Model for Companies in the United States

What will the new tuition reimbursement model look like for companies in the United States in 2020?

In a previous blog, I suggested that the current tuition reimbursement model for adult learners in colleges and universities was ineffective and inefficient.  I also offered an outline of a model that companies and communities might adopt.  Posted below is a more detailed description of those ideas that will constitute the new model.

  1. Companies will identify formal learning certificates, degree-building, and degree programs from local colleges and universities that will be demonstrably in line with the company’s learning needs.  This is a focus that will be developed for groups of students from companies; not individual students.  The intent will be to use the forum for formal learning to move employees through the learning experience together.  The value of the approach will be to create both consistent learning and improved work-place relationships among participants.
  2. Classrooms move from the university to the company location.  In order to gain acceptance, companies will bring college learning to their location(s).  It will be one of the main ingredients in negotiating lower, flat-rate, per-course tuition rates.  It will also be a valuable marketing tool to get your employees involved in formal learning initiatives.
  3. Companies will re-allocate a percentage of tuition dollars toward budgeted, learning objectives focused on company needs.  Tuition reimbursement as a  tool to keep good employees is probably past its prime for that purpose.  Organizations will move to re-allocate a substantial percentage of their budgeted tuition dollars to learning that the company needs to grow.  In some cases, companies will replace tuition reimbursement dollars with budgeted dollars.  For example, budgeting $100,000 for 12 mobile application programmers or 18 graduate-level, trained project managers.  This budget approach will be particularly valuable for new technology and technology application skills that can quickly impact a company.
  4. Companies will negotiate with local colleges and universities for volume-based, flat-rate tuition pricing per course (not per employee) for employee learning cohorts.  Gone will be the days when companies paid tuition list price or ‘list-less’ discounted tuition pricing.  These organizations will negotiate tuition costs based on degrees and/or learning outcomes.
  5. Companies will negotiate for increased control of instructor quality and consistency in the formal learning process.  Today’s adjunct-heavy business model has increased the risk of students getting average or  sub-standard instructors.   Companies will increase the quality control on faculty by insisting on top-tier professors from local colleges and universities for their tuition dollars — and their employees.
  6. Employees in these cohorts will learn with their workplace colleagues — creating new skills for a company while creating and growing a learning culture.  The traditional model of individual students learning with tuition dollars from their employers will start to go away in many cases.  Companies will start to leverage groups or cohorts of students to drive content, quality, and cost.
  7. Companies will internally market the learning programs that provide the biggest return on invested tuition dollars.  Instead of offering a generic benefit like tuition reimbursement, companies will create incentives for employees to learn the skills and content needed for the company to grow.
  8. Local colleges and universities will create incremental revenue sources with limited direct costs.  The previously listed components of  a new tuition reimbursement model will be possible because local colleges and universities will see revenue opportunities that are not currently available to them.  The proposed model will offer college-credit courses at locations other than the valuable classrooms in a college.  The local colleges and universities will be able to limit their direct and incremental costs by designing agreements that allocate marketing and support costs to companies and community organizations.

I am interested in your evaluation of these 8 components of a new tuition reimbursement model for your company.

Comment below.


4 College Cohort Programs Your Organization Can Start First with Local Colleges and Universities

I have listed 4  cohort programs in order of priority for your organization to consider in developing and implementing formal learning with local colleges our universities.  Of course, each organization will adapt to its business needs first.  But, these 4 are programs that can be successful and help build your learning culture.

1.  Degree building:  Adults tend to want successes in smaller increments than 120 – credit bachelor degrees.  Break bachelor -or even associate degree cohorts into smaller degree-building sets of courses.  You might have one set of courses for quantitative subjects (math, science).  You might have a second for basic communication skills ( writing and speaking).  Look at wrapping up the degree-building program with sets of courses in the degree subject matter ( science, business, etc.).  Make sure to celebrate the successful completion of each degree-building set of courses with your employees.

2.   Graduate business:  Depending on your organization’s needs, look to establish an MBA – or graduate degree programs in project management, leadership, or management.  Remember, one of the main values of cohort learning is the business relationships and ideas that develop in the context of academic learning.  These graduate level programs will provide your organization with formal learning at both graduate and undergraduate degree levels.

3.  Specialty certificates:  A reasonable argument can be made that workplace cohorts of college students focusing on skill-specific courses will gain more value at a lower cost.  If you business is customer-service heavy, develop a company-specific certificate that focuses on those skill sets. Ideally, make the courses offered by a college or university ones that can build toward a degree.  If you are uncomfortable with your organization’s overall analytical skills, work with an academic partner to create a 3-5 course certificate program with math, statistics, and logic courses.

4.  College preparation for 1st generation adult college students:  Many companies and communities will have employees not currently ready for their first, official college courses.  Develop a working relationship with one or more local colleges or universities to develop   college preparation courses.  These may not be for college credit, but they will increase the basic learning for your employees and prepare some for progress toward a useful degree for your company or community.

Finally,  one of the key components to a successful academic partnership with local colleges and universities is to negotiate flat rate pricing per class.

Should Companies Only Use Local Colleges and Universities?

In the last decade or so higher education has seen a substantial increase in the number of national, online learning vendors.  I will make the argument that, like politics, higher education for adults is best served locally.

In my experience, one of the most substantive points of value for the college cohorts I created was the work-place relationships established.  The content offered through our academic partnerships was the same as that offered in open enrollment classes at most universities.  However, the value from having employees learn together was obvious to us, but difficult to measure.

Imagine a scenario when you have your members of your organization learning the same college course content term after term.  The class discussions will more likely  focus on how the academic content can be applied to your company or organization.  The cohort of learners can become a focal point for change and growth in your organization.  They are taking the daily tasks and responsibilities of the job and evaluating those items in the context of new learning.

In addition, think about the relationships your company or organization can establish with your local college or university.  The career placement team can help you identify talent, the faculty can become off-line resources for the latest in research and practice that could benefit your organization, and they both come together from an organization that is making your employees better employees.

In a May 2013 report, Gallup suggests that CEOs and other executive leaders of organizations must get to know their local college and university leaders.

Here are 3 reasons to focus on creating academic partnerships and college cohorts with local colleges and universities:  

1.  Keep the talent local.  Whether your company is local, regional, national, or international, your community is best served by those who live there.  The natural incentive to ‘make home better’ is best served by those who live and work in your community.  Both the faculty from the local colleges and universities  — and your employees or members provide talent.  Farming out faculty talent to far off lands can make your local business community weaker.

2.  It creates the opportunity to improve the community.  National college and university brands may provide strong marketing and brand management, but they can’t be everywhere for everybody.  Working with your local higher education providers will provide benefits to the community that cannot be readily matched.

3.  Relationship leverage:  If you think about the first 2 reasons to only use local colleges and universities, it leads to the third reason.  Your business — all business – is based on relationships.  The business intimacy of those local relationships is one that long-distance relationships cannot match with the same degree of success.