Professional Education and Career Blog

Is Corporate-Sponsored Education Headed the Way of Health Care?

Much was made about the news that Starbucks offered education benefits to non-exempt employees, and has chosen to do using a single source provider… Arizona State University. In order for employees to take advantage of the benefit, they must choose from the list of online offerings available through this single university. Walmart has a similar approach, limiting choice to a single educational partner…American Public University.

It’s an approach that has been gaining in popularity in recent years as a way to control choice and cut costs. The thinking goes that if a single provider can support the learning goals of our Organization, and if we can secure a heavy discount on tuition as the result of pushing our employees towards this single provider, we have a “win-win”.

Other companies have taken a less restrictive view, opting instead to build a network of “preferred” learning providers that may include regional and online learning providers, and seeking smaller discounts from these providers in the aggregate. Boeing, for example, has a preferred learning network of over 200 providers. Third party tuition assistance firms have jumped into the fray, forming their own learning networks with negotiated discounts, and offering these networks to their clients as a “cost-cutting” advantage.

But is this really the best approach? In order to succeed in this endeavor, it’s universally understood that a number of regional options for employees will be taken off the table and exchanged for a heavier mix of online educational offerings. Historically, it has been shown that the number one buying criteria for working adults who consider a return to part-time educational pursuits is convenience, and, for face-to-face options, this means location. The question, “Can I get to a classroom after work?” usually breaks down to, “Who offers what I’m looking for within 10 miles of my home or office?” If there isn’t an option, the default is usually towards an online provider.

Studies consistently show that some people will excel in an online environment, and others will fail. Many schools tout the interactions between other students as well as with the instructor as a key part of the learning process. For many, face-to-face interactions in the classroom mirror the interactions at the work site.

A fundamental challenge we in the industry have is measuring educational effectiveness in general. The ROI models are scant, and the results vary. Therefore, the effectiveness of “preferred” networks is difficult to measure in terms of enhanced outcomes.

If it is the company’s intent to provide 100% support for employee educational pursuits, and if it is their desire to get as much education as they can for the dollars invested, preferred education networks are a logical outcome. However, if the company caps its education expenditures per employee, it may be that more choices for the employee will mean better educational outcomes and, therefore, a better ROI for the supporting corporation.