Assessing Competitiveness of College and University Benefits:

(12/20/18) — 

New Sibson Consulting Study Is a Benchmarking Resource

Benefits play a key role in colleges’ and universities’ constant quest to attract and retain top talent. Sibson Consulting’s latest College and University Benefits Study (CUBS) reports detailed information about higher education institutions’ benefits, including differences among the benefits offered to faculty, administration and clerical staff. Higher education institutions can use the study to identify the benefits that could be added, changed or simply promoted to stay competitive.

In only one year, there was a dramatic increase in the number of institutions offering high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), which are defined in the study as having annual deductibles of $1,000 or more. HDHPs now represent more than one-third of all medical plans offered and are the second most prevalent offering behind the traditional preferred provider organization (PPO)/point-of-service (POS) plans with deductibles less than $1,000.


Moreover, HDHPs are now offered by nearly 72 percent of institutions, a sharp rise of 13 percentage points in only two years.

According to Norman J. Jacobson, Senior Vice President and Higher Education Benefits Practice Leader, “The growth in HDHP offerings is a direct result of institutions’ desire to engage faculty and staff in the health care purchasing process to promote consumer awareness of the high cost of medical services.”

The continued double-digit increase in the cost of pharmacy benefits, primarily driven by the growth in high-cost specialty drugs emphasizes the need for institutions to closely manage these plans. This can be seen from the significant increase in the prevalence of pharmacy cost-management programs, such as step-therapy programs and mandatory use of generic drugs.


These are among Sibson’s other key findings about how college and university benefits have changed:

  • The trend continues that more institutions are eliminating retiree health coverage for new hires. Among institutions that still offer retiree health and welfare plans to new hires, there continues to be steady movement to account-based defined contribution (DC) health plans as the vehicle to fund the cost of coverage.
  • The percentage of DC retirement plans moving away from immediate vesting continues to increase but is still offered at more than half of the institutions in the study. Typically, turnover is high within the first six years at higher education institutions. Adding a vesting schedule often provides institutions with a great cost savings opportunity for a group of employees who are not “in it for the long haul.”   
  • Institutions are tightening their policies for tuition reimbursement, as illustrated below, to get more return from providing this valuable employee benefit.


Voluntary/non-traditional benefits that address financial wellness are increasing. For example, more than half of the institutions studied offer local business discounts and banking programs.

“Non-traditional benefits help build affiliation between the individual and the institution for which they work,” notes Leonard J. Spangher, Vice President and Senior Consultant. “Together with all other benefits provided by the institution, they can make the difference in attracting talent and retaining it.”

Sibson’s CUBS report covers 2017 offerings of more than 450 private and public institutions.

To speak with Mr. Jacobson and Mr. Spangher about the study, please contact Erin Burns.

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Sibson Consulting (, a member of The Segal Group, provides strategic human resources solutions to corporate and non-profit employers and professional service firms. Sibson’s services include benefits, compensation, talent and performance management, communications, sales force effectiveness and change management.

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