Growing trend: Corporations providing college tuition as employee benefit

Number of larger corporations offering these programs expected to grow

Starbucks made headlines last spring as more than just a campus hot spot when it announced a free college tuition plan for its employees. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and health insurance company Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield have now followed suit, and Starbucks has expanded its program.

While each corporation is partnering with a specific higher ed institution, the plans and stipulations vary:

  • Starbucks’ partner, Arizona State University, will cover 42 percent of a qualifying employee’s tuition for ASU’s online program, while Starbucks will reimburse the remaining 58 percent at the end of each semester. All full-time and part-time Starbucks employees without a four-year degree may apply. Previously, two years of college (junior and senior years) was offered, but that has been extended to four years for most workers.
  • Fiat Chrysler is going beyond tuition. Employees can attend Strayer University, a Virginia-based private, for-profit institution. Participating dealerships pay a flat fee to join the program, and the company covers tuition, books and other expenses for an unlimited number of employees from that location.
  • Anthem’s program is a reimbursement plan in partnership with College for America at Southern New Hampshire University. It’s open to full- and part-time employees who work 20 or more hours per week and have been employed at least six months.

Although similar partnerships have operated on a smaller scale in recent years, the number of larger corporations offering these programs is expected to grow, says Deborah Seymour, assistant vice president for education attainment and innovation at the American Council on Education.

Society has recognized the link between more education and a stronger workforce—and corporations should reap financial benefits from the retention of well-educated employees, Seymour says.

“Higher education is seeing that preparation for employment is one of the charges they carry, along with providing quality degrees,” she says. “Basically it’s a win-win for both sides.”

Karl McDonnell, CEO of Strayer Education, agrees, as this new partnership aims to attract employees and retain talent for Chrysler and give Strayer the opportunity to be a role model for other large universities. Helping repair the disconnect between higher education and the economy is another positive.

“Getting a college degree is life changing,” he says. “We hope this partnership increases the number of people with degrees, which will help strengthen our nation’s workforce.”


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