The State of Employer-Funded Education

In an ever-changing global economy, professionals across all industries must constantly upskill to succeed. Likewise, companies rely on up-to-date employees to stay ahead of the curve and leverage growth opportunities. Yet despite the clear need for ongoing education, companies that offer tuition reimbursement see low participation rates. Nationwide, less than 10% of eligible employees take advantage of these programs. With an estimated US reimbursement market of over $20 billion, employees are leaving billions on the table.

The reasons are multifold. Lack of awareness is common—in fact, 43% of eligible employees don’t know about their company’s programs. But the most significant barrier may be that traditional education models aren’t working for today’s employers or employees.

Tuition reimbursement is primarily marketed to employees working toward a bachelor’s or master’s degree. But degrees are time-intensive pursuits that may not be realistic for full-time workers, especially if they require in-person attendance. Plus, the reimbursement model often means that students need to pay costly tuition bills upfront.

Another challenge? More degrees aren’t what today’s employees want or need. Knowledge workers, especially those with previous post-secondary education, are more likely to benefit from targeted programs focused on areas of career growth. The Society for Human Resource Management reports that “education, particularly in the tech industry, is moving toward bite-sized offerings” to prepare students for the needs of tomorrow. A short course on a new programming language or a specific leadership skill provides the kind of actionable knowledge that employees need to tackle their organization’s most pressing challenges.

For companies, the value of investing in employee upskilling is clear. A recent study conducted by Accenture found that healthcare giant Cigna’s tuition reimbursement program had an ROI of 129 percent, thanks to internal promotions and lower turnover. Employees stand to gain too. A similar study found that at Discover Financial Services, participants’ wages increased 40% compared to their peers who had not taken advantage of the program.

With that in mind, how can organizations identify the most beneficial targeted courses? First, it’s essential to consider the quality of the instructors. Courses led by experts in their field or by leading professors at reputable institutions typically provide the most reliable, up-to-date education.

The format is another factor to explore. With online learning the new norm, there are plenty of options for flexible virtual learning. In recent years, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have quickly risen in popularity, appealing to companies due to their low price points. However, the size and scope of these courses mean they must appeal to a broad audience, reducing their relevance and making it difficult for students to engage. It’s no surprise that the completion rate for these programs is a measly four percent.

Enter Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs). At Emeritus, we design SPOCs in partnership with some of the world’s best universities, offering access to leading thinkers from around the globe in pursuit of positive outcomes for the learner and organization. For example, Ailed Ruiz who has been working for Adidas since 2015 in various roles within merchandising, eCommerce, and project management, enrolled for Mastering Digital Marketing SEM, SEO, Social Media and Beyond through Emeritus and London Business School. Ailed completed the flexible three-month program and now credits her recent course experience for her promotion to Global Senior Manager, Digital Operations.

The small size of the courses allows for interactive learning that is highly tailored for maximum impact. And with tuition averaging $1,000 to $2,000 per participant and a completion rate of over 95 percent, SPOCs provide a powerful ROI. By combining the pedagogical power of accomplished professors with the accessibility of a short, online course, Emeritus’ SPOC model offers a clear path toward a better-educated and more engaged workforce.

If you’d like to learn more, please reach out www.emeritus.org/enterprise

By Rachel Hastings

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