Tuition costs in the U.S. continue to rise on an annual basis, making it increasingly more expensive for employers to offer tuition assistance programs aimed at developing their workforce.
A recent report by the College Board found that tuition and fees at public four-year institutions increased 4.2 percent from 2011-2012. That puts the average cost for full-time undergraduate institutions at $8,655 at public four-year institutions, $29,056 at private nonprofit institutions and $15,172 at private for-profit institutions, according to the College Board. Part-time students, such as working adults, are equally affected by these rising costs.
EdLink, a tuition assistance benefits company, outlines a few methods companies can use to mitigate much of the tuition increases in its August 2012 report, “Innovative Approaches to Manage Your Tuition Program.” These methods allow employers to both reduce expenses and get more value from their existing tuition program investment. Further, these alternatives can create viable pathways to credit while reducing the overall price tag and debt to employers and employees.
Listed below are some of the methods included in the study.
Leverage prior learning assessments. Companies are able to allow an individual to receive credit for nontraditional learning achieved through work and life experience. Through portfolio reviews and examinations, individuals are offered an opportunity to formally earn credit for subject matter expertise gained through workforce development and job training, independent reading, the military, volunteerism and other hands-on experiential learning.
The average cost of a portfolio through LearningCounts.org, a learning assessment provider, is $379 for one to 12 credit hours. Prior learning assessment is also offered at all types of undergraduate institutions, including private for-profit and nonprofit institutions, as well as public institutions. Costs will vary.
Use examinations for college credit. Individuals can earn college credit through subject matter exams. Some examples: College Level Examination Program (CLEP), DSST Exams, Advanced Placement (AP) and UExcel.
These exams cover a variety of subjects — literature, science, math, humanities and foreign languages —are accepted at more than 2,000 colleges and cover anywhere from eight to 38 subjects. The average cost per examination ranges from $85 to $95.
Take courses at public, two-year community colleges. While not new, this method provides an affordable option for general studies courses. Most four-year institutions in the U.S. allow students to transfer and apply credit toward a degree. The average cost per course is $303.
Seek out specialized course providers. This method allows individuals to take general education courses that will transfer for college credit. Starbucks, for instance, covers specialized course providers in its tuition policy as a way to help its workforce save money on general coursework.
By applying these methods, there is a potential for significant cost savings. For example, an employer with 3,000 employees with an average 5 percent tuition benefit utilization can expect to save anywhere from $116,000 to $328,000 in tuition costs per year, according to EdLink.
The following strategies can help employers leverage the benefits of these alternatives:
Examine corporate policy to ensure inclusion of alternative methods in tuition assistance programs and advancement policies. Create specific allowances for credible course and PLA providers that allow students to transfer credits to accredited colleges.
Communicate and promote the advantages for alternative methods to employees. This can not only add up to big savings but it can help employees to get on a fast track to degree completion.
Align tuition assistance with learning and development. Most learning and development functions are sponsoring efforts to ensure training programs create paths to credit for employees. Submit corporate training programs for review by the ACE CREDIT recommendation service. This service connects workplace learning with colleges and universities by helping adults gain academic credit for formal courses and examinations taken outside of traditional degree programs.
John Zappa is CEO of EdLink, a provider of corporate tuition assistance management services. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.
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