Helping hands

President Obama called on all Americans to further their education by pursuing at least one year of higher education or advanced training as part of a broader initiative to improve the country’s ability to compete in the global economy. A more educated work force certainly is in the best interests of both the individual and his or her employer.

Jim Hutcherson, the vice president of Strategic & Academic Alliances for University of Phoenix, creates partnerships that help achieve that goal.

“We’re seeing a lot of companies making a strong investment in education,” Hutcherson says. “They recognize the added leverage they can achieve by expanding what they’ve historically viewed as ‘training’ to a broader initiative tied to advanced education.”

Smart Business spoke with Hutcherson about how universities can help companies improve the quality of their work forces.

How can the corporate world support the education and training of its employees?

Many companies today are taking a hard look at the value of the human capital they have within the organization and how they can make investments into their work forces.

Specifically, companies are seeking ways to spend their dollars on educational programs that provide the skills their employees need. As an example, one large manufacturer we are working with recently evaluated its education spending. They realized they were spending a lot of money for education that didn’t really fit what their corporation needed. So they made a major investment to retool their program and then backed that up by making a major investment in tuition reimbursement.

Why should companies partner with higher education institutions?

In today’s environment, higher education typically has a set of programs that are fairly broad and can be applied to a wide variety of situations. What many companies are recognizing is that by partnering with a higher education institution, they can create a variety of ways to build an education experience that applies to and benefits employees of their own particular company.

For instance, companies are working with universities to improve the way their existing programs are focused, enhancing them to support learning outcomes the company can use. The university will collaborate with companies and identify specific business problems or specific learning objectives that they really want those students to have. Then the university will incorporate those into the course of study along with the core competencies that are required for that course.

The enhancements can be anything from additional types of readings that are focused on a particular industry to a specific short-term or long-term business problem the company is facing.

How can companies improve college access and affordability?

There has been a push to make education as affordable as possible. An effort has been made to convert the significant investment that companies have already made in corporate training programs and turn that into what we call an articulated college credit.

This allows incoming students to get a head start on higher education by starting off with credits already in hand before they take their first class. The company and the university identify any corporate classes or training the employees have taken that may qualify, classes that have the rigor and equivalency of what they would have received at a university. By converting corporate education into college credit, the cost of that education is greatly reduced. Plus, the program is focused on the exact skills your company needs.

How do you determine how corporate training programs translate to college credits?

The university evaluates the courses a corporation has developed for its content, its delivery, number of hours, whether it was instructor-led, self-paced or computer-based. Using higher learning accreditation-type processes, the findings are compared to nationally accepted practices to ensure the rigor of those courses match what a student would have gotten from a university.

Each class is evaluated individually. Then those evaluations are provided back to the student in the form of a list of courses that he or she may have taken at his or her corporation, listing the credit value and discipline of those courses.

The students who come in with existing corporate training have a significantly higher probability of completion than those who come in without any credits. Having the ability to take what you’ve learned in the workplace and apply it to your education is not only a cost savings but it’s also a jump-start that helps students succeed at school.

What about the misperception that tuition assistance pays employees to make themselves more attractive to other employers?

There are many national studies that disprove this opinion and in fact show that tuition reimbursement programs actually improve employee loyalty and longevity. At University of Phoenix, we are conducting significant return-on-investment analysis with companies that offer tuition reimbursement. Our early findings also show that tuition reimbursement for job-related degrees adds to retention while improving and enhancing skill development, not only because of the education but also because active learning adults are much better at absorbing new ideas and skills than ones who haven’t been in school for a long time. It’s a win for both the company and the individual employee.

Jim Hutcherson is the vice president of Strategic & Academic Alliances for University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix, the largest private university in North America, serves a diverse student population, offering associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs from campuses and learning centers across the U.S. as well as online throughout the world. University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus serves students online and at locations in Independence, Beachwood and Westlake/Crocker Park. To learn more, contact University of Phoenix at (216) 447-8807 or (800) MY SUCCESS, or