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Irma Becerra is president of Marymount University, a comprehensive doctoral-granting university known for its innovative curriculum.
From climate change to the digitalization of health care, there is no shortage of significant challenges staring back at the next generation of workers. Opportunities abound for those intent on making a difference in the rapidly evolving global job market. Knowledge workers who wish to excel in business today must bring their expertise and necessary skills to the workplace. Many employment opportunities geared at knowledge workers at today’s most sought-after companies require at least a bachelor’s degree beyond entry-level positions.
In the last two years, thousands of students left the degree track when offered significant incomes by employers with no degree requirements. Companies like General Motors, Google, Bank of America, IBM and Tesla have been removing college degree requirements from job descriptions that traditionally required them. However, alongside the personal benefits a professional can gain from earning their degree, there are multiple reasons why business leaders should consider getting behind and supporting employees’ intent on completing their college studies.
Organizations benefit from employees pursuing higher education.
Supporting employees determined to earn college degrees should prove well worth the time, effort and money for companies. After all, there are numerous benefits college-educated employees can bring to an organization. College provides ample growth opportunities, helping employees who pursue degrees to have better problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, which can lead to improved productivity and performance.
Another way these employees can contribute significantly to the workplace is through innovation and creativity — they bring the skills and knowledge needed to generate new ideas and find creative solutions to problems. Navigating life on a university campus can help college-educated employees learn to quickly assimilate and adapt to changing technologies, business models and market conditions. Conquering complex coursework also lends to analytical skills, which can help employees to make better decisions.
Another beneficial skill that can be acquired at college is strong communication and teamwork, which can help your employees work effectively with others. Collaboration is crucial for business success, and communicating in a give-and-take manner in a group setting is practiced daily in college.
A workforce of degreed employees can help a company attract customers and clients who value a highly skilled and educated workforce. Also, companies with a high percentage of college-educated employees tend to have a stronger competitive advantage by being better equipped to adapt to changes in the business environment.
Create a culture of learning and growth.
Employers can create a culture of learning to encourage employees to finish their degrees. There are many ways to motivate employees to return to school and earn their degrees. Start by creating an environment where education is valued and employees are encouraged to pursue higher education. Company-wide communication is very effective, and newsletters, websites or informational sessions can help employees understand the benefits of higher education and the options available.
There is power in leading by example, so consider encouraging senior leadership and managers to continue their own education. Promote career advancement opportunities available to employees who have completed a college degree. Employers can also offer professional development opportunities to help employees acquire new skills and knowledge and prepare them for higher-level positions. Peer recognition for employees working toward a college degree can help motivate and encourage other employees to pursue higher education.
What are concrete ways to help employees earn degrees?
Companies can offer tuition remission to incentivize employees to complete their college studies. Paying for a portion or all of their employees’ tuition costs can make college possible for those with limited financial means. In 2018, the Society for Human Resource Management said only four percent of U.S. companies offered tuition reimbursement as an employee benefit. It’s worth noting, however, that recent legislation offers employer incentives for helping repay employees’ student loan debt, and during the pandemic, tuition assistance has become a more popular offering among companies. Employers can provide up to $5,250 of tuition reimbursements, and an employee can benefit from writing off the amount as tax-free income.
Beyond the cost, scheduling time to attend classes is essential. Some companies allow employees to take a sabbatical, which could be used to kickstart a college education. Employees can attend classes and study while meeting their work obligations when companies allow flexible schedules. Creating a mentor program can prove beneficial for employees juggling the many demands of school and work simultaneously.
Help your employees realize the American dream.
For first-generation and minority students, there are numerous obstacles to acquiring a degree today. Many students also experienced COVID-19-related health issues, while others lost dear relatives to the disease. From needing to financially support their families to struggling with lingering COVID-19-related mental and physical health issues, it is no wonder millions of students did not return to college in Fall 2020.
For employees who fell off the degree track for whatever reason, help them understand that earning a degree is a move toward prosperity, excellent employment opportunities and personal growth. Helping to make college education accessible for all can close the gap between the haves and have-nots. Regardless of a bull or bear economy, a college degree puts middle-class mobility within reach for every citizen. As an immigrant and first-generation college graduate, I can certainly attest that my American Dream began on a college campus decades ago!