Education ROI Featured

7:00pm EDT December 27, 2005
As more mid- to small-sized companies offer tuition reimbursement to employees (a benefit once enjoyed mainly by employees of large corporations), there is a rising concern about the return on investment from sending employees back to school.

Tuition can be expensive, and business owners have a right to expect that employees have learned something that they can take back to the company and apply in a tangible way, says Elden Monday, state vice president, Pennsylvania, for the University of Phoenix.

Smart Business spoke with Monday about ways businesses can ensure that the money spent on sending employees back to school is not wasted, and, most importantly, how to make certain that the education an employee gets is a win-win for both the employee and the business.

 

How can a business ensure that it gets a good return on investment from continuing education for employees?
The key is for the business owner or manager to become involved in the process and manage the outcome of this endeavor. Good managers will keep track of their employees’ educational pursuits.

To be clear, keeping track is not just asking employees whether they got a passing grade. More likely, it is a system that demonstrates the knowledge that employees gain from education, and the ways that knowledge will be applied to their jobs. The most successful measurement systems include an assessment before the employee begins attending class; an ongoing review process while the employee is in school; and an evaluation of the knowledge the employee gained at the end of the program.

A distinct advantage of continuing education is that it produces nearly immediate and ongoing return. It is reasonable to expect that long before an employee has a new degree in hand, he or she will begin implementing skills, approaching challenges in new ways and generally performing at a higher level.

 

What should a business owner or manager do before sending an employee to take a course or obtain a degree?
The first step is for the manager or CEO to take a close look at the curriculum the employee proposes to take and determine whether it fits with both company and employee needs. Many companies have succession plans in place and have a good idea what an employee needs to learn in order to move to the next level.

Does the employee need a degree in accounting in order to move up in the company? Does the employee need extra courses to beef up on new online marketing techniques?

Another way to protect the investment is to ask employees up front how they will apply their new knowledge to their jobs. Employees and managers share responsibility to determine how the course or degree will ultimately help the company.

 

How can a manager stay involved in the process once the employee has signed up?
Through performance reviews or regular coaching sessions, managers can have conversations with the employee about the course work and how new knowledge can be applied to the workplace. One opportunity for immediate ROI is to encourage the employee to identify workplace projects that can be introduced as a real-world challenge in the education setting. This scenario leverages the knowledge of students and faculty by using a real-life business problem as a classroom or an employee’s individual project.

 

Once an employee has completed a course or obtained a degree, how can a business owner assess whether the money was well spent?
There are several ways to assess the ROI. Is the employee utilizing his or her skills in the workplace? Are managers making better decisions because they have gone to a decision-making class? Are they better at critical thinking because of a critical thinking class — or are they still using their gut?

The question business owners need to ask themselves is this: Do you have a better department or company because of the money you spent on educating your employees? The difference — before and after — should be tangible and visible.

 

As a business owner, how can you ensure that employees don’t jump ship once you’ve invested in their education?
A nationwide work force survey showed that employees are more likely to remain loyal if they have paths for growth in both responsibility and salary. It’s true there is some risk that an employee will seek a higher-paying or more challenging job with a new degree in hand.

For this reason, business owners often incorporate clauses in their companies’ tuition reimbursement agreements, defining a minimum duration of employment after the degree or training is complete (usually at least six months).

 

Elden Monday is the state vice president for the Pennsylvania campuses of University of Phoenix, a national leader in higher education for working adults. Reach Monday at Elden.monday@phoenix.edu (610) 989-0880, ext. 1131.