When Children’s Colorado began offering tuition-free education to employees, nearly 25% of eligible employees enrolled within a week of its launching. “It blew us out of the water,” says Stacy Whiteside, director of experience and engagement at Children's Colorado in Aurora. “And the numbers continue to rise, so we’re thrilled.”
It’s the first pediatric hospital system in the country to provide this benefit, according to Children’s Colorado. The initiative enables benefits-eligible employees to choose from more than 75 tuition-free programs, including undergraduate and graduate degree options and certifications. It was created in collaboration with Guild, a company that partners with educational institutions to provide learning opportunities tailored to working adults. For staff members seeking specialized programs not offered in the tuition-free program, a tuition reimbursement option is still available.
Whiteside says this program not only relieves participants of the upfront expense but also some of the difficulties of juggling education and a career. “Many of our team members are not able to take a pause in their work life and go to school for four years—that's a really unique and important part of this model,” Whiteside says. “We've had so many team members reach out to us saying, ‘This is a life-changer for me; I never thought I'd be able to get a college degree, but now I can.’”
Enhancing educational equity likely to boost recruitment, retention
Whiteside says providing staff members with career mobility within the institution was a big driver in providing tuition-free educational benefits. She expects it to serve as a powerful recruiting tool in a tight labor market, and she’s already heard that it has influenced retention.
One of the primary motivating factors to add this option to its existing tuition-assistance program was to enhance equity and access to education for all employees. To that end, Children’s Colorado is choosing not to require any service commitments to receive tuition-free educational benefit.
“For folks who haven't engaged in higher education before, that can be a barrier—it can be a scary thing to sign on for,” Whiteside says. “We really believe the return on this investment of our team members learning, growing and staying with the organization will far exceed any losses we may have if somebody were to leave while we were paying for their education.”