​October 20, 2015

Anne Killian
(262) 373-7614 | annek@ifebp.org  

Educational assistance programs: Why they work

The classic employee benefit continues to gain popularity

Brookfield, WisconsinEducational assistance programs continue to gain steam with several large companies—McDonald's, Starbucks and Chipotle all recently added or expanded their tuition reimbursement programs. Educational Assistance Benefits: 2015 Survey Results, from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, evaluated educational assistance/tuition reimbursement programs and found why companies have added, expanded and stayed with the benefit for so long—It works.

About five in six (83%) organizations offer some sort of educational assistance or tuition reimbursement benefit to their employees. Their top reasons for offering educational benefits are to:

  • Retain current employees (52.1%)
  • Maintain/increase employee satisfaction and loyalty (42.6%)
  • Keep employees current on evolving skill sets required for the organization (41.1%)
  • Attract future talent (26.6%)
  • Maintain/increase innovation (14.2%)
  • Maintain/increase productivity (13.5%). 

Almost 75% of organizations say their educational assistance offerings are successful.  Forty-five percent of programs were successful  in retaining current employees, 44.3% kept employees current on evolving skill sets required for the organization, 39.4% maintained/increased employee satisfaction and loyalty, 15.6% attracted future talent and 12.8% maintained/increased productivity and innovation.

The top reason organizations offer the benefit is to retain and develop employees. "Educational assistance benefits resonate with employees who love to learn and sharpen their skills. Organizations looking to attract and keep key talent find this a great benefit offering," said Julie Stich, CEBS, Research Director at the International Foundation.

Even though educational assistance offerings are successful for organizations, results show in many organizations less than 5% of employees take advantage of educational offerings. An employee will most commonly receive a fixed dollar amount of $5,000-$6,999 annually, but most organizations require that employees give something too—79% require employees to earn a minimum grade for course reimbursement, such as earning a C or better. Nearly half of organizations require payback of funds if an employee leaves before a specified period after completion of coursework. 

"Educational assistance benefits are a win-win," said Stich. "They work as a recruitment device and cost-effective way to grow a workforce's knowledge and skills. This benefit is especially of interest to Millennials, who are looking for opportunities to learn and advance in their careers." 

Respondents overwhelmingly offer educational assistance to their full-time salaried and hourly workers. More than one in three respondents also provide these benefits to their part-time salaried and hourly workers. The most common type of coursework covered is undergraduate-level courses (88%), followed by master's degree-level courses (87%) and associate degree courses (69%).

When it comes to employee benefit offerings, many organizations are sticking with the classics. Because of the success, more than 70% of organizations that offer educational assistance programs have done so for more than 10 years, while nearly 38% have been offering benefits for over 20 years.

The future of educational assistance programs looks strong. Only 2% of organizations plan to decrease their emphasis on educational benefits over the next five years, while 29% of respondents are expecting to increase their emphasis. For more details on Educational Assistance Benefits: 2015 Survey Results, visit www.ifebp.org/edassistance. Survey contains responses from members of the International Foundation and the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists (CEBS©). 


The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans is a member-driven organization with six decades of experience as a leading objective source of employee benefits education and information within the American and Canadian workplace. The Foundation's expertise is industry wide; and it offers resources that include Foundation staff, training, conferences and research on topics critical to assisting its 31,000 multiemployer, corporate and public sector members respond to trends affecting the well-being of more than 25 million lives in North America. For additional information, visit www.ifebp.org.