Monday, May 21, 2007

Tuition Assistance and Employee Retention

Today's Wall Street Journal reports on research by Stanford graduate student Colleen Flaherty and Wharton professor Peter Cappelli indicating that employees are less likely to leave a firm if they have been enrolled in a tuition assistance program. The finding proves quite interesting, because many firms have worried in the past that employees would jump ship after taking advantage of a tuition assistance program. Economists too have questioned whether tuition reimbursement programs increase turnover among talented employees. After all, most MBA programs enhance an employees' general human capital, rather than firm-specific human capital; thus, they become more attractive to outside employers. Investments in firm-specific human capital, in contrast, would increase an employees' prospects within the firm, but not on the outside market. The findings from Flahery and Cappelli suggest that employees may stick around despite the increase in marketable skills. Perhaps employees feel a sense of loyalty to their employers, or they might find that the advanced degree offers numerous opportunities for internal promotion. Of course, the finding may also suggest that the kinds of firms offering generous tuition reimbursement programs also are quite likely to have other attributes that are highly attractive to talented, highly educated employees. Those other attributes may explain, in part, why turnover is lower for those enrolled in tuition reimbursement programs.