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College for Working Adults: The Gift That Keeps Giving

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Wed Nov 11 2015

College for Working Adults: The Gift That Keeps Giving
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Over the past few months, my organization, College for America at Southern New Hampshire University, has been getting a fair amount of press about our recent partnership with Anthem, Inc. The collaboration enables Anthem, Inc. to offer 51,000 eligible workers the chance to pursue accredited college degree programs—at no cost to them.

This partnership is part of an increasingly proven model for higher education: Strayer University has teamed with Chrysler, Arizona State University has joined with Starbucks, and other relationships have been forged to form new kinds of business-higher education ventures. Indeed, we know that companies have been offering tuition assistance and partnering with colleges and universities for years. So what’s so noteworthy or newsworthy about this particular model?

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What is new about these partnerships is that companies are now actively invested in shaping the educational offerings supported by their tuition assistance programs—both in what is offered and how it is made available to employees. Employers are now realizing they need to be more involved in the process.

In some cases, employers—including UPS, Google, BP, and Deloitte—and educational partners are making select courses at certain colleges available to employees at a reduced cost. In other cases, colleges work with industry subject matter experts and employers nationwide to understand what exactly it is that they need in their workforce and incorporate in-demand skills into its college offerings.

Tailoring Business-Education Partnerships

Today’s best business-education partnerships are tailored to help employees grow to be more effective workers, thereby helping companies invest directly and actively in their workforce. We know that employees who feel valued are more likely to be loyal employees.

Just this past week, I participated in a panel at the National Urban League and USA Fund’s Higher Education Summit alongside Western Governors University (WGU) and Arizona State University—two other leading online education providers committed to working with employers. We discussed at length how employers can engage and invest in talent by offering high-quality but low-cost online and competency-based education—a particular boon to workers who have previously taken college off the table. To paraphrase WGU-Indiana Chancellor Allison Barber: we are giving hope to workers who are feeling stuck in their careers.

Business-education partnerships are engaging people and giving them opportunities that they often wouldn’t otherwise have. The success of these partnerships is evident in their adoption. Early evidence suggests that more employer engagement can spur enrollment. College for America commissioned a study of workers that showed that 72 percent of employees would be more interested in a college that partners with their employer. And our partner Anthem, for example, has had more employees express interest in its tuition reimbursement program with the announcement of the College for America opportunity than ever before.

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Adoption is critical—but are these new partnerships doing what they’re supposed to be doing, which is educating employees? The onus is on each new collaboration to prove value—and because each partnership is going to vary according to the programming offered and funding model, it will have to define how its success is measured.

Measuring Business-Education Partnerships

At College for America, we have set two types of metrics. One set of metrics is employer-focused: retention, promotion, and employee and employer satisfaction. In a survey of our first year of associate’s degree graduates at College for America: 

  • 9 in 10 are still with the same employer 

  • 50+ percent report getting a promotion or increased responsibilities at work 

  • 70 percent say they now have new career goals 

  • 2 in 3 have gone on to enroll in a bachelor’s program.

The other set of metrics is student-focused: pace of mastery, time to degree, graduation rates, and impact on career. In a more recent survey of nearly 400 College for America graduates:

  • 89 percent say their College for America work helps build skills for their current job 

  • 92 percent say their College for America work helps them with their future employment. 

One of the benefits of employer engagement is that we are serving a core business interest—workforce development. This is not merely education for education’s sake, and the collective we—all educational institutions in the vanguard of corporate-education partnerships—look forward to being held to the business imperative of delivering results for our partners and students alike.

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