These may be the most challenging times ever confronted in the modern history of continuing education. In my more-than-30-years of urging, pushing, shaping, and nudging continuing education through its engagements with the public, we have never faced a more complex set of conditions. Money is tight, prospects for an expansive economy seem slim, and competition for resources has never been fiercer.
Somewhere around 10 percent of the American workforce is unemployed and another 20 percent is underemployed. To paraphrase a one-time New York Times best seller, technology and change in the structure of the global economy have moved our cheese.
The jobs and professions we are educating people for are multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary. Mobile devices, “gesture interfaces,” and “ubiquitous computing” are blending the function into the form of many occupations, deconstructing our time-honored silos. Many familiar jobs and entire occupations are just not coming back.
Even the presumed social status of higher education in American society is being challenged: It’s too expensive… too elitist … its claim as the “finest” system in the world, is just more chronic “exceptionalism.”
Employers say they cannot find qualified employees at the price they are willing to pay, unless they go off-shore. Too many degree students arrive on the job with too much debt, too little experience, and without the right knowledge and skills. Too many holders of advanced degrees cannot find work in their field. Too many graduates suffer from buyer’s remorse when they discover the field they majored in has too few opportunities.
In short, this seems like a prescription for tuition reimbursement. No system of education finance, in theory, is better aligned with the overarching needs and prevailing conditions confronting higher education and the American workforce. The need is urgent. We cannot fail to help them unless we are willing to lose a generation.
So, I have a few concerns and questions –and I suspect you do, too:
Federal and state policy-makers seem ready to spend money to stem the flood of high school students leaving high school without a diploma . . . but what about the millions of young people who have already spilled out of our schools and into the job market?
What about the millions who earned their degree, but have lost their job because their knowledge has been made obsolete, or the job has been shipped off-shore to workers with lower salary requirements?
What about the growing ranks of people with master’s degrees and Ph.D.s who cannot find suitable employment? Is the best answer really “another master’s in another field” or a second Ph.D.?
Would a certificate that is less time consuming and more sharply focused be a better option?
Tuition Reimbursement, on the surface, certainly seems like a hopeful remedy . . . especially if its programs and prospects of employment are properly aligned. So why don’t employers make better use of it? Why do they erect barriers to getting it? What obstacles do employees see to TR, and what can we do about those?
Why is TR so-often “gamed” by employers and employees? Employers are afraid employees will run off with their improved-selves, and benefit a competitor? Really? Where’s the evidence? Is the value really lost? Many leading employers promote “alumni” programs to stay in touch with “former” employees, realizing that the day may come when they want that employee back with important new skills and new knowledge at no costs.
Who are the players in TR, and what are their roles? How do we come up with an approach that makes our own “credit” – “non-credit” schisms less difficult to cross?
Is a strategic initiative imaginable that would clarify, resolve, and eliminate all the conflicting rules that constrain a potentially valuable resource for employers, students, and institutions?
On Thursday, April 8, I’ll moderating a panel at the 2010 UCEA Annual Conference entitled:
Tuition Reimbursement Benefits:
Easing Access to Higher and Continuing Education for the Working Professional
8:45 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. Concurrent Sessions – Series I Location: Franciscan D
But I decided to pose those questions as a way of perking up our collective antennae.
We are fortunate to have some of the most knowledgeable, most experienced, and most innovative people in this field to speak on this topic. I hope you will take full advantage of them, and add your questions to mine. This is just the beginning of a vital conversation that must continue between our institutions and our communities.
Mike Echols is Executive Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and the “Human Capital Lab” at Bellevue University where he is a significant force in corporate learning. He was recently also the moderator of CAEL’s Tuition Strategy Group. Today, among other things, Mike will provide insight into how he works with business and industry in his region to co-design curricula that meet the needs of both the university and the employers.
Carol Aslanian is Senior Vice President for Market Research and Advisory Services at EducationDynamics – a higher education marketing organization. We at NYU SCPS worked with Carol first when she was at the College Board, then through her former company Aslanian Group, and now with Education Dynamics on the issue of working with employers in NYC – with an emphasis on the use of tuition reimbursement. Carol will discuss some of the major findings of the studies she has conducted for us over the years, including major changes and consistencies in employer tuition reimbursement programs.
Kevin Currie is the Executive Director of Northeastern University Online. He has been involved in the corporate and professional development aspect of continuing education for more than twenty years. Under his direction Northeastern University Online has grown quarter-hour enrollments from fewer than three-thousand in 2003 to more than seventy-thousand in 2009. The school went from offering several courses to hosting more than seventy programs, including professional development certificates and doctoral degrees. Kevin is going to provide a brief historical perspective, as well as look at the current landscape of how tuition reimbursement is being used.