Human Resources Releases Results of 2015 Benefits Study

Benchmarking study shows GW in the middle among peer universities regarding health, retirement and tuition benefits.

Professor's Gate
September 09, 2015

Benefits for George Washington University employees rank in the middle compared to those offered at 17 peer universities, according to a benefits report prepared by Mercer, a leading global consultant on issues that include health and retirement benefits.

The total value of GW’s health, retirement and tuition remission plans, according to the report, is $17,245 per employee per year. That number is the pre-tax value of the benefit, according to John Kosky, associate vice president for HR talent management, and represents the total sum of medical, retirement and tuition benefits valued in the report.

Of the 18 institutions (including GW) analyzed in the report, GW ranked eighth in the benefits included in this assessment.

GW’s total value places it above the median of $16,777 per employee per year and closer to the highest-valued plan ($20,837) than the lowest-valued plan ($11,618).


The report was requested by George Washington President Steven Knapp in June at a meeting of GW’s Benefits Advisory Committee as part of the university’s efforts to benchmark its benefits against peer institutions. The university utilizes this list of peer institutions to measure indicators such as enrollment, financial aid, price-per-student, endowment per student and faculty salaries. 

Benefits Report


Peer universities

Seventeen other schools—all private universities—were used to benchmark GW’s benefits:

American University
Boston University
Duke University
Emory University
Georgetown University
New York University
Northeastern University
Northwestern University
Southern Methodist University
Tufts University
Tulane University
University of Miami
University of Pennsylvania
University of Rochester
University of Southern California
Vanderbilt University
Washington University- St. Louis

“Above all, we want our plans to be competitive so that we can attract and retain the best possible faculty and staff,” Dr. Knapp said at the June BAC meeting.

The university contracted with Mercer to conduct the benchmarking study to examine current health, retirement and tuition remission benefits offered by GW.

“This report is particularly helpful in gaining insight on the overall quality of GW’s primary benefit plan offerings when compared to peer institutions,” said Sabrina Ellis, vice president for human resources. “There is a strong desire to ensure that our benefits remain competitive.” 

Mr. Kosky said that benefits in the report were valued using the pre-tax annual value of the particular benefit provided by GW if an employee were to try to replace the benefit on the open market.

“This method takes into consideration important factors such as high-cost of living areas, claims experience, employee contributions, employee demographics, plan utilization or enrollment patterns and controls for these variables in order to make a fair comparison of benefit value among multiple institutions,” he said.

Sara Rosenbaum, Harold and Jane Hirsh Professor of Health Law and Policy, who co-chairs the Benefits Task Force, said the Mercer report would be  “a useful starting point in developing a consistent set of benchmarks to inform the ongoing work of the Benefits Task Force.”

Here is a look a the three areas analyzed in the report: 

Health Benefits

Of the 18 institutions analyzed, GW ranked eighth in health benefits with a value of $8,061 per employee per year—just below the 75th percentile value of $8,343. The value of the GW health benefit is based on the university’s basic medical plan, Mr. Kosky said, because it is GW’s plan with the highest enrollment. Medical plan offerings vary by university, he added.

GW offers a high-deductible plan and two preferred provider organization (PPO) plans. New York University, for example, offers a health maintenance organization (HMO), point-of-service (POS) and high-deductible plans.

The methodology in the report looked at the plan with the highest enrollment (if known). If that enrollment information was not known, then the highest valued PPO option for each university was valued. Only three universities surpassed the 75th percentile threshold. The largest was valued at $11,985 per employee per year. That particular plan is an outlier of the group, Mr. Kosky said, because an HMO plan was used as the benchmark because it had the highest enrollment.

“Other than those three universities, you will see that the health plans of the other 15 universities are very close to one another in terms of value,” Mr. Kosky said. “This is because the most common plan design is an 80 percent/20 percent coinsurance PPO plan, and there is not a significant difference between plan designs across the peer institutions.”

Retirement Benefits

GW’s retirement benefits—which include features such as immediate vesting once eligible, base and matching university contributions—ranks seventh among the 18 schools in the report, valued at $7,081 per employee per year. GW ranked slightly above the median in retirement benefits.

Tuition Benefits

Tuition benefits at GW rank 10th out of the 18 schools included in the report. Tuition remission is a benefit that is common in higher education, but less so outside of higher education, Mr. Kosky said. Plans vary among institutions.

“There is not a standardized approach to designing tuition plans,” he said. “The results of the study basically proved that.”

Differentiating factors among universities include employee eligibility, dependent eligibility, covered dependents, the number of credits the student can take per semester, maximum reimbursement, eligibility for part-time employees and degree programs eligible for tuition remission. As a result, tuition benefit values among the respective 18 universities vary more than other categories.

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