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Student Employees: ‘Show Me More Than the Money’

For employees working and earning degrees at the same time, support comes in more forms than tuition assistance.

Take it from nurses at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. In 2009, the hospital was granted Magnet Status by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, which has been given to fewer than 7 percent of 6,000 U.S. hospitals. To achieve the title, all nurse managers and leaders have to have at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and the organization has to work toward the goal of having 80 percent of its nurses earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing by 2020.

“It’s a designation of excellence that helps us attract and retain nurses, demonstrates the value org places on nurses as vetted employees,” said Lynn Hall, benefits manager for Cincinnati Children’s who oversees tuition assistance and university programs. “In order to achieve and maintain designation there’s ongoing hurdles that the organization has to meet to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to the elevating of the whole nursing profession.”

For Cincinnati Children’s, that commitment included giving not only financial support to nurses looking to earn a bachelor’s degree but also providing services that make it easier to balance a job with school.

Pamela Tate, CEO of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, discusses the support employees need when working and going to school.

Stress levels of full-time college students have increased so much that depression is now a major health issue on American campuses. A 2013 study conducted by the National College Health Assessment found almost a third of college students said they felt so depressed the year before it was hard for them to function. 

And that’s just full-time students. When students are 18, going to university or college for the first time, that’s their job, said Jay Titus, senior director of education services at EdAssist, a tuition assistance management service company. But adult learners returning to college have to juggle their careers, family lives and studies. “Employees are drowning a little bit on how they can manage all of this and getting discouraged from the get-go.”

Cincinnati Children’s provides a life preserver in a few ways, which helps relieve some of the life-work-school balance stress its nurses experience.

Hall said the organization already offered help to all employees struggling with work-life balance, particularly through a concierge service that runs errands and delivers meals for both patients’ families and employees. The hospital also offers classes on financial planning and home ownership, a fitness center and other amenities to employees, regardless of whether they’re in school.

But as much as the concierge and life-work balance support helps, Cincinnati Children’s also needed to give school-specific assistance to employees doubling as students. To do so, they partnered with EdAssist to provide on-call advisors who help research the right schools, strategize what curriculums align with career paths and navigate tuition programs.

Cincinnati Children’s also set up cohorts for 10 to 30 students working on similar degree programs. For example, hospital coworkers on nurse practitioner tracks support each other’s studies as they progress through the curricula. Such peer groups offer more support than just financial aid, something Titus said is imperative for employee-student success.

It’s also critical to the hospital’s success, both for the future of its nursing staff and its current day-to-day functions.

 “We certainly want our direct care providers to be psychologically and mentally completely ready to deal with and provide expert care to patients and families,” Hall said. “While everyone feels that stress, it’s at a higher level of criticalness for our care providers … If and when they feel ready to take that next step (of earning a degree) or plan for it down the road, the benefit is there.”