In Part I of this blog post I introduced the non-profit organization, Corporate Voices for Working Families (CVWF), and the conversation I had with their Senior Director of Workforce Readiness, Peg Walton. I continue here in the same vein with a focus on advice and solutions that can bring about Learn & Earn-oriented collaborations between community colleges and companies that are what I referred to as win/win/win situations, where employees, employers and community colleges all truly benefit.
The kind of Learn & Earn collaborations I am talking about here are initiatives in which a community college and a company come together to create or enhance a community college training, credentialed or full-associate-degree program(s) in which employees (especially those who are low-income adults) are supported in a manner that allows them to work at their jobs and earn a living while simultaneously attending such programs at their local community college.
CVWF recently published “Business and Community College Partnerships: A Blueprint,” which outlines how both community colleges and businesses can form strong correlations between work and education and ultimately increase the skills of employees along with our nation’s college completion rates. On the heels of the blueprint, CVWF also recently published “A Talent Development Solution: Exploring Business Drivers and Returns in Learn & Earn Partnerships,” which briefly outlines why Learn & Earn works for businesses, what comprises a Learn & Earn model partnership, and what are the benefits and challenges of such partnerships.
After reading these publications and talking with Peg, I came to the following conclusions that, in my opinion, synthesize the key elements that employers, employees, and community colleges need to
- From an employer perspective, providing tuition assistance is only one solution for supporting employees in a Learn & Earn initiative. As noted in the CVWF Talent Development Solution paper, “many other strategies can also be effective, including internships, mentoring, apprenticeships, prior learning assessments, flexible work scheduling, cooperative education partnerships, and more.”
- From an employee perspective, the best Learn & Earn benefit one can get is one in which tuition is paid up front, instead of being reimbursed after completion or not reimbursed at all. However, taking that kind of risk with an up-front tuition payment may not be in the best interest of the employer. As noted above, employers may offer other types of Learn & Earn benefits, all of which are good. So, employees who find it difficult or next to impossible to deal with a scenario in which they will have to come up with some form of tuition payment out of their own pockets will have to figure out a belt-tightening solution that will allow them to earn that credential or degree. Over time, it will be to their benefit. Unfortunately, I don’t know any other answer to the prospect of this kind of dilemma. Ideas and comments from employers about this are more than welcome.
- From a community college perspective, the goal, in short, is to provide relevant, labor-market-value programs that meet the needs of local businesses. As noted in the CVWF Blueprint paper, “community colleges can look to their business partners to help meet college completion goals; develop and validate curriculum; supply in-kind donations of equipment and materials; extend scare classroom space; increase revenues; and provide visibility.”
Peg added to this by saying that good Learn & Earn initiatives lead to higher employee retention rates, which means cost savings to any company. “Those are numbers you can put metrics to and show how it impacts the bottom line,” she said. “That is the story we have to tell for businesses to be engaged. We also point to community colleges because they have a good price point, especially for low-income individuals. And we look to community colleges for their flexibility.”
So there you have it: Businesses want to see bottom-line results, preferably from solid metrics; community colleges have to reach out and make a good business case showing how they can contribute to a company’s bottom line; and students have to take advantage of whatever Learn & Earn benefits they can get, work hard and succeed at completing their education.
“The whole education model is evolving,” Peg said. “Community colleges that are flexible and willing to figure out new ways of doing things are finding outlets for how to be valuable to their students and their employers.”