How fertility benefits can be a vital tool for attracting higher ed talent

Higher education organizations are adding more and more comprehensive family-building benefits
By: | August 16, 2021
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Peter Nieves

Peter Nieves

Few things challenge an academic’s work-life balance more than the desire to have a family of one’s own.

It is a powerful, often innate force. It can do more than drive prospective parents to distraction at work and at home. Employees who struggle with infertility face higher rates of depression, absenteeism, and turnover than their peers.

That’s why family-building benefits have become especially necessary among higher education professionals. Two prominent universities, Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, recognized this need and now offer fertility benefits to all of their employees.

Besides improving the livelihoods of faculty and staff, a managed fertility benefit can be a vital tool for any competitive university in the race to attract talent.

Why fertility benefits?

Much of the demand for family-building benefits derives from couples choosing to start families later in life, therefore increasing the need for assisted reproductive technologies. Larger tech and white-collar companies were early adopters of fertility programs.

Now, higher education organizations are adding more and more comprehensive family-building benefits. The University of Maryland’s fertility benefit covers employees up to $100,000 and includes five IVF cycles, a welcome and progressive benefit to faculty and staff.

Fertility benefits address practical concerns. They can help offset the high cost of fertility treatments and unplanned medical expenses from multiple births. Heterosexual couples and same-sex couples can access the same level of support regardless of the kind of family-building services or treatment they may need―from elective egg freezing and genetic testing to surrogacy and adoption.

In the world of higher education, consider the new assistant professor pursuing a tenure-track position. She might find herself conflicted: as her need for long work hours and career dedication rises, it coincides with her reproductive years.

In this way, a managed fertility benefit with an emphasis on egg freezing and surrogacy can alleviate at least some of the burden associated with work-life balance. The fertility benefit offers an advantage to both the scholar and their institution of employment.

Managed vs. unmanaged benefits

There are two kinds of fertility benefits: managed and unmanaged. The number of employers offering managed fertility benefits is increasing.

A managed benefit includes comprehensive clinical advocacy for the patient, provider matching and guidance for medically appropriate treatments, and 24/7 access to these services. Patients are connected to clinical experts who guide them through their personal family-building journey, matching them to doctors, medical treatments, and the lowest-cost medications.

With an unmanaged benefit, employees have access to company funds without guidance on the most efficient and productive way to use those funds. They must navigate their own fertility journey, spending their limited benefit dollars at their own discretion. This places unnecessary stress on employees, and can dramatically increase claim costs for employers.

Colleges and universities that offer a managed fertility benefit reap rewards on multiple fronts: improved outcomes for their employees’ family-building journeys, higher patient satisfaction, and more efficient use of benefit dollars―sometimes reducing cycle costs by 15% to 30% compared to an unmanaged cycle.

Cost savings

The cost savings derived from a managed fertility benefit model extend to the delivery room. A managed benefit increases the likelihood of healthy, full-term singleton babies.

The clinical oversight that comes with a managed solution decreases C-sections, pre-term births, and NICU expenses. More than 20% of twins and 80% of triplets are born prematurely and require NICU care. Research shows that an average NICU admission can have a 20-day length of stay and cost between $40,000 and $80,000, a cost employer groups would certainly want to avoid.

The universities and colleges that offer employees a clinically managed fertility benefit boast a commitment to supporting faculty, staff, and their families. The elimination of wasteful spending offers a practical perk along with the immeasurable benefits that come from happier, supported, and productive employees.

Demographic factors

The college faculty who are least able to afford fertility treatments are those in their 30s and early 40s―the most likely employees, by age group, to be starting a family. Data from the Faculty in Higher Education Survey 2018 shows the median annual salary across all tenure-track faculty positions does not exceed $100,000 until an employee turns 70.

According to the same survey, men outnumber women among professors and associate professors. These positions are associated with a higher salary, on average, than assistant professors. In another ironic twist, more women than men among tenure-track faculty hold the assistant professor title between the ages of 30 and 35―the same period of life when many choose to start a family.

Demographic data on non-teaching employees is less widely publicized. Stanford University compared its staff to its faculty by gender and race for the 2020-21 academic year. The data shows a large gender gap: women comprise only 31% of Stanford’s professoriate faculty and 63% of its staff positions. Staff outnumbered professors by more than a 6-to-1 ratio.

Since women are more likely than men to bear the emotional and logistical burdens associated with infertility, the data suggests that extending fertility benefits to non-teaching staff can have a broad effect among higher education employees.

While college and university faculty are older, on average, than many workforce sectors, the youngest faculty are the most likely to struggle with the costs of starting a family. Surveys show family-building benefits are more popular among today’s employees compared to previous generations.

A robust slate of fertility benefits is more necessary than ever for colleges and universities to attract and retain this generation of talent.

Peter Nieves is the chief commercial officer for WINFertility, a benefits provider.