Creating a strategic education benefit that works for your employees and your business

Here’s what we know

For years, organizations have established tuition reimbursement benefits to attract potential new hires, but generally put them on the shelf and forgot they existed. Traditionally these policies were designed to meet a $5,250 per person, per year allowable tax benefit deduction and covered only post-secondary education expenses.

The benefit was used to show stakeholders and industry competition that the company was a good corporate citizen, even using the benefit in campaigns to get onto “Top 100” lists, but the desire for actual employee utilization is very low and often deterred. Still, other organizations have turned their back on an education benefit all together, thinking investing anything in individuals that turn over at such a high rate is a waste if they never show up for a second shift.

Most companies who have adopted this approach have seen low benefit participation rates, and worse, fail to articulate the value of such benefit to senior leadership. With the right toolkit leveraging insightful questions, organizations can shift their thinking on education assistance as a powerful tool in attracting, developing, training and retaining employees.

Here’s what we found

Both scenarios above are missing several key components such as: strategy and unification of cross-business stakeholders to drive a meaningful discussion related to talent management; design thinking around educational programs and solutions that can impact job and career development; the right technology and support to capture data analytics related to performance and business impact of these benefits; and ultimately, widening the lens of who your workforce is.

We’ve met many companies who keep similar philosophies; not because they’re meaning to, but because they don’t understand the underlying strategy or cost to the organization. These lackluster views about talent development aren’t keeping up with the pace of change, in an economy where nontraditional competitors are now attracting your talent and, where employee resignation or quits have risen steadily by the millions since 2010 due to lack of development opportunities.

Total employee quits per year

Total employee quits per year. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Here’s why we did it

Leveraging our collective years of experience in working with employers to design, develop, deliver and manage learning and education programs for companies, we partnered with Jaime Fall and UpSkill America as a way for us to share our insights broadly with the marketplace. UpSkill America, in partnership with the Walmart Foundation, has built a toolkit for organizations to use in designing sustainable upskilling strategies and solutions.

We encourage you to download the “Tuition Assistance Policy Discussion: Roadmap to a Skilled and Educated Workforce”.

This tool is the latest in a series released by UpSkill America in the past year to equip businesses with the tools to educate, train, and support frontline workers’ development to advance their careers. The work builds on UpSkill America’s 2017 UpSkilling Playbook for Employers.

About the Authors
Sean Stowers

Sean Stowers

Sean Stowers, CPTM, is the director of business development with Pearson’s Accelerated Pathways business, where he works with organizations that believe learning is a strategic imperative and a crucial component of the employee value proposition. Sean connects the dots, linking ideas, practices, and technologies to meet business outcomes and create engaging development opportunities for an organization’s employees, partners, customers, or members.  Prior to joining Pearson 17 years ago, he spent five years at FT Knowledge, a division of Pearson Education that focused on training for the financial services industry. Previously, Sean was a client executive at IBM. Connect with Sean on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Rachael Bourque

Rachael Bourque

Rachael Bourque is part of Pearson’s Accelerated Pathways team, helping organizations reinvent education as a benefit into a corporate strategy that results in return on investment.  As part of the Accelerated Pathways team, she is working to increase equity and access to education for over 70 million working adults who have been left off the path to education attainment.  Rachael has over 20 years’ experience working with Fortune 1000 companies to design, develop, deliver and administer meaningful employee engagement experiences that affect knowledge and skill.  Outcomes include improved retention, engagement, safety, and performance.  Rachael has a bachelor’s degree from Pace University in New York City and MBA from University of Dallas. Connect with Rachael on LinkedIn and Twitter.

About Pearson Accelerated Pathways

Pearson Accelerated Pathways helps companies strategically align their educational assistance benefit to the talent objectives of the organization. Learn how we improve business performance by building a workforce that’s more skilled, competitive, engaged, and prepared for the future of work.

About UpSkill America

UpSkill America is an employer-led movement that promotes training and advancement practices to help workers progress in their careers and move into better-paying jobs, with the goal of expanding opportunity for America’s workers and helping our economy and communities thrive. UpSkill America is a part of the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program. Learn more at