Employer-Based College Programs Here to Stay
Companies like Chipotle and Amazon aren't scaling back educational benefits for employees.
Employer-based tuition reimbursement or debt-free college programs can be effective ways to retain workers and attract new ones.
But they're also an employee benefit. And benefits are one of the first things on the chopping block when times get tough, said Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills at the left-of-center think tank New America.
Inside Higher Ed Careres Search Over 22,000 Jobs Keyword or Location Search Browse all jobs on Inside Higher Ed Careers » Hiring? Post A Job Today! It's surprising to McCarthy, then, that several companies with prominent education programs have no plans to scale them back. And, in some cases, companies are actually expanding programs' reach.
Shawn Hulsizer is seeing similar commitment and enthusiasm from the organizations she works with, which is why she isn't surprised to hear that.
Hulsizer is vice president of advancement and impact at the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), a Strada Education Network affiliate. The council often serves as an intermediary between employers and higher education institutions for these kinds of programs, she said.
The companies that work with them understand they have to make investments to retain and recruit employees, and that trend isn't changing, she said.
Hulsizer hasn't seen a scaling back of educational programs. One reason is they're relatively low cost. Generally, only 2 to 5 percent of the workforce at a company uses the tuition reimbursement program. Cutting it wouldn't save much money.
People may be looking for these benefits now more than ever, she said. While surveys show that many are interested in furthering their education since the COVID-19 pandemic began, affordability is still an issue.
"Even though they need education, they're cautious about pursuing it," Hulsizer said. Tuition reimbursement programs can help solve that problem.
Potential students face other barriers, though. Hulsizer is most worried about low-income workers and people of color, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Even if they have a benefit from an employer, will they have the time, access, childcare and prior educational attainment to be able to pursue more education?
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