Why college coaches are a hot employee benefit


 (Reuters) - When Jenny Rosenberger’s daughter started thinking about college, she felt what a lot of parents in America do: Totally overwhelmed.

The senior vice president for Bank of America in Newark, Delaware, took one look at the application process – with its mountains of options, paperwork, and opaque admissions criteria – and didn’t quite know how to attack it all.

Then she came across an employee benefit her company offered: A "college coach."

The program not only helped her daughter Kaydria Boyer come up with a list of target schools, but gave feedback on essays, and provided tips on financial aid. The result: Acceptance to almost everywhere she applied, including the winner, Louisiana State University.

"Not only did she get admitted, but she also got a sizable scholarship," Rosenberger says. "We never would have had LSU on our map if it hadn’t shown up on their lists, and I don’t know that she would have got scholarship money without their support and feedback."

It is an intriguing employee benefit, in the era of the 'Great Resignation' and 'Quiet Quitting.' Companies are trying to figure out how to retain and motivate their best workers while cultivating a sense of loyalty – helping out someone's kids is a guaranteed way to do it.

Growing concern about the costs of higher education as well as rising student loan debt is prompting companies to help employees navigate the college application process.

"Instead of just helping people on the back end of college, how can we help families on the front end, as well?" says Craig Copeland, director of wealth benefits research at the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Getting help from college coaches is not to discount the critical work school counselors do every day. But with educational funding under constant stress, school counselors are often overwhelmed. The ratio of students to counselors around the country for the 2020-21 school year was 415-1, according to the American School Counselor Association.

So additional support with this complex process is a wise idea. The problem, of course, is cost: Getting private help can cost hundreds of dollars an hour, with the total bill easily getting into the thousands.

That is why digging into your employee benefits handbook can turn into a financial windfall – since many people might not even know they have college coaching on the menu.

"Having gone through the process myself, I know it can be extremely stressful," says Brandt Bennett, the Bank of America benefits executive who oversees the company's program, which started in 2020 in partnership with the firm Bright Horizons. "Not only can it mean tremendous savings, but it can also bring them some peace of mind."

Since we are in the thick of application season, do not waste time in finding out if you have this employee benefit, especially if your teenager is looking ahead to college next fall. (And if your kid is a few years away from college age, you can always start lobbying for it now.)

Give yourself as much time as possible. First, services like essay reviews take some time, involving multiple drafts to sharpen ideas and improve the final product. And secondly, college coaches can also direct you to financial aid opportunities, many of which are first-come, first-served, and come with their own early deadlines.

Potentially, making a more thoughtful college choice could save money over a much longer time frame – not only the four years of a bachelor's degree but many years of student debt afterward.

"People don't really understand the full costs of college, and this is one-way employers can help employees make sure they are making choices they can really afford," says EBRI's Copeland.

A final thought: When your college coach helps narrow the scope of potential institutions – Rosenberger's daughter received three lists of likely acceptances, possible acceptances, and 'stretch' schools – remember to let your kid guide the process. You may have your ideas about a dream university for your child, but they likely have their own thoughts.

That could involve a particular major or the local climate, or whether they prefer a small-town or a big-city experience –all of which can make for some "eye-opening" recommendations you might not have anticipated, says Rosenberger.

"This was all new to me, and I needed so much hand-holding," she says. "If I had gotten private help on my own, it would have cost me thousands – no question about it."

Editing by Lauren Young and Diane Craft Follow us @ReutersMoney

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