The addition of the Bellevue University Learning Advantage (BULA) program to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s (BCBSNE) tuition reimbursement benefits places higher education in reach for more employees.

BULA, rolled out June 1 in partnership with Bellevue University (BU), builds on the tuition reimbursement opportunities available to eligible part-time and full-time BCBSNE employees. Some of the new program’s highlights include tuition reimbursement for employees’ immediate family members and direct payments from BCBSNE, so employees don’t have to pay out-of-pocket and wait for reimbursement.

“The goal of implementing BULA was to see a 50 percent increase in the number of BCBSNE enrollees using tuition reimbursement from 2017,” said Kara Teri, payroll specialist.

Four months in, the increase has far surpassed the original goal with nearly 50 employees enrolled in BULA, creating a 92 percent increase in reimbursement enrollees from last year.

Teri described employees’ response to BULA as “phenomenal” and said by the end of the year, the enrollee increase is estimated to be at 110 percent.

For BCBSNE employees like Kathy Nellor, manager of wellness services, BULA made earning a master’s degree possible.

Nellor is studying business administration with a concentration in human resource management. Prior to BULA’s rollout, Nellor looked at BU’s program but decided against enrolling because of cost.

“I have one son in college and another will be there in less than two years,” Nellor said. “When it comes to cost, saving for their college futures has always been my number one priority. Now with this new tuition reimbursement program with BU, this makes achieving this degree much more doable.”

Nellor said she enjoys the flexibility of the program since her classes are online.

Tara Stenslokken, a training and documentation specialist, said BULA gave her the push she needed after “teetering back and forth” for some time. Stenslokken is working towards a master’s degree in healthcare. Her real-world experience at BCBSNE is applicable inside and outside the classroom.

“Something that I am already getting out of this program is the ability to relate to class examples more easily now that I have been in the professional world for almost four years,” Stenslokken said. “While I was doing my undergrad work, it was difficult for me to relate to business scenarios, as I had only worked at a daycare.”

Stenslokken said she thinks earning a degree will give her a leg up when it comes to job advancement.

Facilities Assistant Wendy Smith agrees.

Smith wanted to work towards a bachelors degree after earning her associates, but never did because of the financial burden tuition would place on her family. Thanks to BULA, she’s heading back to school in November to study project management.

“Going back to school and getting a degree just opens more doors, more opportunity for advancement and gives you an overall feeling of accomplishment,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my life.”

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