Industries that are highly specialized and require a high degree of expertise naturally involve the most education and student loan debt.

Consider the following: While the typical bachelor’s degree holder leaves college with a median of $26,500 in debt, 85% of medical school graduates leave school with debt with a median amount of nearly $200,000, according to the 2012 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

If you’re an employer who seeks highly talented candidates with advanced education credentials, understanding the mindset and financial challenges faced by your hires — and, subsequently, building a support structure to holistically address such concerns — can directly affect your organization’s opportunities for growth and success. After all, these hires put in the time and made the large investment in their futures so that your company could eventually reap the benefits.

Bottom line: If their potential contributions are of value to your company’s future, it makes sense to understand, acknowledge and honor that undertaking.

Looking for ROI 

Graduates usually begin making student loan payments six months after leaving school — and many of these professionals quickly come to find meeting those large bills to be a daunting task. For example, with an interest rate of 4% and a 10-year repayment term, a law graduate holding $138,000 in student loan debt will pay out $1,165 per month. Under the same terms, M.D. graduates who amass $193,000 of debt need to keep up with a monthly obligation of $1,629.

These are hardly insignificant sums — equivalent, in many cases, to a rent or mortgage payment.

It should come as no surprise, then, that those with in-demand skill sets seek not only respectable salaries and a high potential for career development, but also competitive, innovative benefits packages.

Today’s Student Debt Reality: Key Insights

The rule of thumb may not be realistic. Some financial experts insist total debt at graduation should be less than your starting salary — a benchmark that can be exceedingly difficult to meet in this day and age, especially for those who have spent years working towards advanced degrees.  

Ask yourself: How can we support new hires in those early, post-graduation years?

Some repayment options aren’t ideal. There are several alternative repayment plans for federal student loans in which one’s monthly bill can be adjusted based on current income. Other plans extend your loan term past 10 years. For some borrowers, such options may take the pressure off today’s budget by lowering the current monthly bill. There is a long-term price to pay for that relief, however — because interest will continue to accrue for a greater period of time, they’ll likely pay more over the life of the loan.

Ask yourself: What would it take to help an employee avoid a repayment plan that ultimately costs them more?

Don’t forget to factor in the cost of living. The difference between living expenses in a large metropolitan area versus a small town or suburb can be significant. For employers in big cities hoping to attract talented graduates, salaries and benefits must be set at a level that allows employees to satisfy the cost of living.

Ask yourself: Is there a way to help offset the unique expenses that employees face in my company’s geographic stronghold?

On the Bright Side

Some good news. Statistics show you’re still better off with an advanced degree than not. People with advanced degrees generally do catch up — eventually. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs that require a master’s or doctoral degree are experiencing high growth, with anticipated increases of 18 percent and 16 percent, respectively, this decade.

Employers are starting to help. Some companies now recognize that finding creative ways to help their employees alleviate financial burdens — not to mention keep more of their paychecks — can be highly appreciated and build loyalty. One notable example would be the burgeoning new trend of offering staff members student loan repayment benefits.

Employers who want to attract a highly educated workforce should strive to be attuned to the financial struggles and life priorities of new hires — an awareness all-the-more important for those companies existing and competing in specialized industries that require a long path of higher education. 

Organizations that offer incentives that provide a relevant solution for their employees, will win at recruiting and retaining the best of the best.