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Which Education-Related Fees Should be Eligible for Reimbursement?

"Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to." This quote by billionaire businessman Richard Branson sums up why offering tuition reimbursement is a smart idea for companies.

But it's the "how" of offering this benefit that can get tricky. (If you let it.)

  • What fees should be included in your tuition reimbursement policy?
  • Should the fees be covered at 100%?
  • Should all employees (full-time and part-time) receive the same fee reimbursements?
  • Will you put any restrictions on the benefit? (E.g., employees must work X length of time before redeeming/must receive X grade, etc.)

While there are a number of factors to consider before putting your tuition reimbursement policy into action, it's also important that you don't let the guidelines and restrictions get so out of control that it becomes a nightmare for benefit administrators to manage and maintain.

What to Cover / What Not to Cover

The more education-related fees you include, the stronger - and more attractive - your tuition reimbursement policy will be. With 54% of companies offering undergraduate tuition assistance (according to the Society for Human Resource Management) it's becoming less of a question of if you should offer a policy, but how you will make yours as competitive as possible.

However, the fees you're able to reimburse will largely be determined by your company's budget.

Keep in mind that what you decide to cover, and not cover, can also greatly affect participation levels.

Take a look at some of the commonly covered fees below:

  • Textbooks/books/digital book downloads
  • Course-specific fees (e.g. lab fees, field work, etc.)
  • Conferences
  • Certifications
  • Training
  • Travel expenses (e.g. flight/mileage, hotel, transportation, meals/per diem for out-of-state training or conferences)

Here are a few not-as-commonly-covered fees below:

  • Parking
  • One-time registration fees
  • Computers
  • Internet-connection charges
  • Software (unless specifically required for the course or training)
  • School supplies

Smaller companies can offer competitive policies that include education-related fee reimbursements that work well with their leaner budgets. (For example, you could offer a small allotment for textbook reimbursement, leaving the employee responsible if fees go over.)

Larger companies might offer 100% reimbursement for specified education-related fees to help attract and retain the most desirable industry candidates.

Cover Your Bases

Once you've decided what education-related fees your policy will include (and the ones it won't), it's time to set clear guidelines for them. Maybe your company will reimburse for conferences at 100%, but you will not pay for meals or offer a per diem.

Or, maybe your company will not reimburse for any additional course-specific fees outside of the course itself, leaving employees responsible for textbooks/labs/etc.

Perhaps only full-time team members will get tuition reimbursement and education-related fees reimbursed, while part-time team members receive tuition reimbursement only.

Take a look at what fees your competitors cover within their reimbursement policies to determine if you can at least match it - or go a step further by covering more.

There are many options available to employers, which is what makes offering this benefit so accessible to companies of all sizes. However, you should also be mindful about how overly complicating this benefit can adversely affect your company.

Keep It Simple

Even if you use tuition reimbursement software, your policy, and the criteria you require for participation, can become difficult and time-consuming for tuition program administrators to manage.

This can lead to a loss of productivity within your company -- and negatively affect how employees see this benefit as well.

Policies must clearly state what is covered and what isn't, but complicating your criteria will only lead to issues for program administrators and may even cause job dissatisfaction amongst employees.

Keeping your stipulations as simple as possible will ensure administrators stay at their average productivity levels and eligible employees are able to easily participate. (Both of which are essential components to making your tuition reimbursement policy work for your company.)

Tuition reimbursement software can streamline this process for administrators, but a simple policy will be better for your company (and the policy's success) long-term.

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