Ensuring equal access and equal opportunity may require shifting your tuition benefits program from a tuition reimbursement policy to a tuition assistance policy. What’s the difference? Even though the terms tuition reimbursement and tuition assistance are often used interchangeably, and the two policies can be configured to offer similar benefits, a tuition assistance program does not require the employee to pay for their education upfront and then be reimbursed (provided they have met all the applicable conditions). This opens up access to more front-line or entry-level employees with lower incomes and limited access to credit.
In a tuition assistance program, the employee’s tuition and fees can be paid by the employer, directly to the school, or deferred in some way through a partnership between the employer and the school. The employer can still attach certain restrictions (designated schools, qualifying certificate or degree programs, minimum GPA, timeframe requirements and the like) but the need for the employee to pay for their tuition out of pocket or obtain student loans is significantly reduced or eliminated altogether. If your plan requires the employee to pay their tuition up front or doesn’t include a direct bill option, you might want to consider an overhaul.
Finally, equal access to the program is important to achieve diverse participation. Every employee, regardless of their position or duties and responsibilities, should have an equal opportunity to participate. The benefit should be available on day 1 of employment and at the same level, regardless of tenure. This encourages early participation, enables upward mobility and allows the program to follow through on its initial promise.