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Trilogy Health Services already took aim at employees’ student debt. Now it’s going further

The employer has seen retention and utilization rates soar since expanding efforts to help workers pay off debt.
By: | November 18, 2019 • 3 min read

Employees everywhere are saddled with student-loan debt, and those working at Trilogy Health Services are no exception.

Workers at the senior-care provider collectively hold more than $36 million in student-loan debt, with each employee owing an average of $31,668.

“When we heard that, that made a real impression on how we could help our people. It just shows us how many people are really in crisis around this debt [problem],” says Todd Schmiedeler, senior vice president of foundation and workforce development at Trilogy Health Services. “That debt is scary—it delays home-buying, it delays getting assets—it slows people’s ability to feel like they’re making a way for themselves,” he says.

That’s why, in 2016, Trilogy decided to join a growing number of employers offering student-loan benefits. It paid $250 per quarter to employees toward the principal on their loans. That was a success, Schmiedeler says, but it also was an administrative burden because the company managed the program in-house. “We cut about 3,000 checks, and I was pretty sure our finance and accounting team were getting ready to kill me,” he says. “It was very laborious. The amount of effort was tremendous.”

Plus, the company wanted to go even further to chip away at the problem afflicting so many of its employees.

“It could have been just fine what we were doing,” Schmiedeler explains. “But we wanted to get more aggressive.”

As a result, this year Trilogy decided to go further in its efforts to help employees—and decrease administrative burdens—by partnering with provider Tuition.io. For its roughly 15,000 employees, the employer added a suite of expanded education-assistance benefits, including for student-loan repayment, scholarships for employees and their dependents, and access to financial-wellness tools. The two companies just publicly announced the partnership.

“Education is a lifelong journey, and offering a benefit to support each stage shows that employers are mindful of every employee’s educational and financial needs,” says Tuition.io CEO Scott Thompson.

Eligible employees at Trilogy now receive monthly contributions of $100 to help pay down the principal on their student loans, with no lifetime maximum. The program is available to full-time and part-time employees who have been working for at least six months.

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The results have been significant: Since the company began partnering with Tuition.io, about 800 more Trilogy employees have signed up to take advantage of the student-loan-repayment benefit, bringing the total to 1,200 workers. And that number is growing. Schmiedeler expects the number of employees enrolled in the benefit to reach 1,500 by next month.

“We hear such great response from it,” he says. “I had people that hugged me and cried when they were helped to pay off their debt. That makes us feel good about what we do.”

The other programs—including scholarship and financial-wellness tools—are an “added value to every employee,” he says.

Related: Employers are doubling down on financial wellness. Is it helping?

“All these are critical because it gives employees the hope that they can earn a better living to support themselves and their family,” Schmiedeler says. “And for our people, they are thoughtful, caring people, and they want to take better care of our residents. They do that by getting better knowledge and better skills (through) this investment in education.”

In addition to showing positive feel-good reaction from employees, Trilogy says its program has a solid return on investment. Its student-loan-repayment benefit has seen “tremendous success” on retention. Trilogy employees who use the benefit stay 2.5 times longer than those who aren’t signed up for the program—a significant stat in the healthcare industry, which typically has record-high turnover rates.

“This just shows that these kind of programs are really making an impact,” Schmiedeler says.

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Trilogy is among a small, yet growing group of employers that have turned to student-loan repayment and other educational benefits as a way to help employees who face an exorbitant amount of school debt, while also using them as a vital recruitment and retention tool. Employers including Aetna, Sotheby’s, the Hartford, Estée Lauder and Staples offer contributions to workers’ principal debt amounts; others, including Fiat Chrysler, provide a student-loan-refinancing benefit, which allows employees to replace existing loans with a new loan at a lower interest rate.

Meanwhile, Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall, a not-for-profit community hospital with campuses in Newburgh and Cornwall, N.Y., recently announced its own unique student-loan benefit, with Tuition.io, that allows employees to transfer their unused paid time off to the repayment of their student debt.

Overall, 8% of employers now offer a student-debt benefit, up from 4% last year, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Industry experts expect that number to grow.

“The weight of this financial burden is relentless, and employers need to understand the impact this has on the mental and financial wellness of their employees,” Thompson says. “Not only is it the right thing to do, but simply put, employees that receive student loan contributions stay longer with their employer.”

Related: How One Employer is Getting Creative to Reduce Student Debt

“If we want our employees to be great and to take care of our residents … they have to feel cared about, too. That’s our priority,” Schmiedeler says. “Investing in your people—they stay.”

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at [email protected]

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