What is "Education Assistance?"
Updated: Oct 25
As is the case with many highly-specialized fields, in Global Mobility there are many policy terms for which there is no universal, standardized definition. Each employer has its own nomenclature, reflective of its unique culture, history, and practice. For example, a cursory review of corporate mobility policies presents us with a wide variety of terms for employees who relocate at the request of their employer, including: expatriates, transferees, assignees, globally mobile employees, secondees, third-country nationals, etc. This lack of standardization can make the understanding and comparing (benchmarking) of policies a real challenge.
Another example is the term education assistance as it pertains to the provision of support for the schooling of employees’ children. Mobility policy surveys often ask: “Does your organization provide education assistance, Y/N?” but the answer to that specific question would tell us virtually nothing of value without a clear definition of the term.
There are countless variations and gradations of policy, but it is helpful to think of education assistance in terms of two separate but often conflated concepts:
Financial support such as an allowance or reimbursement to address schooling costs
Guidance & advice from a consultant for the family regarding assignment-related education issues and questions
Understanding these two concepts as distinct and different is essential and can have a real impact on mobility budgets.
The first—financial support via allowance or reimbursement—is often what first springs to mind when education assistance is mentioned. And it is easy to understand why such a benefit is normally reserved for senior executives. When all of the fees and related expenses are included, the cost of international schools in a place like New York, London, Paris, or Tokyo can range from $30-$60,000 per student per year. When the tax costs over a four-year assignment are included, an employer is facing education costs close to $400,000 for one student.
The second type of assistance—guidance & advice—involves having a qualified education professional advisor provide insights to the family on a broad swath of issues, from available schools in the host location to questions of curriculum, enrollment requirements, or Special Education Needs. This type of benefit would typically be less than 2% of the four-year assignment education costs outlined above.
Because these two types of assistance are often lumped together as one policy element, guidance & advice is rarely available on its own to lower-level employees, despite its relatively low cost. This is in many ways hard to understand, since these lower-level employees are frequently expected to consider the difficult-to-navigate free state/public systems as their primary schooling option.
These school systems can be particularly confounding for non-locals, with byzantine admissions processes, complex enrollment requirements, and often presenting a mix of charter, magnet, gifted, and other types of specialized schools from which to choose. The likelihood of confusion and frustration is high and the need for an education specialist is most important.
By providing expert guidance to these employees, the employer is decreasing the amount of time, effort, and emotional energy that the individual employee must devote to this difficult but important task, and ultimately increasing the odds of assignment success by resolving this challenge quickly.
Even for those employees entitled to financial assistance for tuition costs—or those willing to foot the bill on their own—access to a qualified, unbiased advisor often increases the chances of finding the best-fit school for their children. Otherwise, transferring employees will often make a school selection with limited information, sometimes based on word of mouth or perceived prestige rather than on the academic and cultural fit the school offers their child. Having the input of an informed and competent advisor can prove crucial in making the right decision.
It's important to recognize that these two aspects of education assistance serve different purposes and arrive at very different price points. A policy review can help ensure that each is applied within a mobility program in the most appropriate and effective way.
Timothy Dwyer, President
Over the years, Bennett International Education Consultancy has worked with hundreds of corporations across the globe, many of them Fortune 500 companies, providing domestic and international school advisement & placement services - preschool through university - to the dependents of relocating employees. In addition to education placement, our team provides customized consulting for corporations with a range of education issues: education policy writing & benchmarking, tuition studies, group move advisement & planning, and remote education solutions.