Judi Heile

The workplace is an ideal venue for introducing higher education opportunities to adults. Lifelong learning has always been valued and encouraged by employers and educators. Today’s business leaders know that lifelong learning has become a necessity to remain flexible, innovative and competitive. Our ever-changing society and the knowledge economy have placed unprecedented demands on all of us. Organizations are reaching out to colleges in the Greater Cincinnati area to develop partnerships that make an impact by empowering employees to grow and develop, not only as individuals but also as contributing members of the work force.

This partnering can take many forms. About half of the adult students engaged in higher education receive some form of tuition reimbursement as part of a benefits package. It’s clearly one of the top recruitment and retention strategies in building a qualified and dedicated work force. Some corporations work with a college or university to develop a specific curriculum or training sequence to meet the learning goals of the organization.

Still others provide an opportunity for a group of employees/students to move through a degree program on-site, making it convenient and timely for employees. Schools and hospitals have been creatively designing apprenticeship models in conjunction with colleges so that adult students can blend classroom learning with practical skills in an accelerated format, achieving not only their own goals for degree completion, but making a significant contribution to the employer. In an ideal world, these programs would not only support the goals of the organization, but provide a way for the faculty to become immersed in a setting away from the traditional campus, one that exposes them to the best practices in their own field or discipline. The organization has a vested interest in choosing the employees who qualify for the program and the college has an obligation to deliver the learning outcomes.

Cooperative education (co-op) is another well-known partnership between higher education and the employment community. In many cases, co-op is considered to be a program for traditional students (those entering college right after high school). But in today’s world, numerous adult students look for opportunities to earn credit for their professional experience as well. The underlying concept of cooperative education is that one learns best by doing, and that exposure to the world of work assists students by enriching classroom learning to produce optimum educational outcomes. Co-op has consistently been praised for its contribution to successful human resource strategies.

The potential for creative, innovative and sensible programs that encourage your employees to be the best they can be are within your grasp because of the enormous opportunities for collaboration with higher education providers in Cincinnati. Keep the following in mind as you consider the possibilities.

  • Seek relationships with colleges skilled in meeting the needs of adult learners.
  • Establish learning goals in collaboration with the educational provider.
  • Develop internal promotional programs to communicate the importance and relevance of learning opportunities for your employees.
  • Provide support and encouragement for employees who are juggling schedules to accomplish their work obligations and educational goals.
  • Provide computer/Internet access in the workplace so that employees without home access can engage in educational activities during their free time.
  • Work with the educators to establish ways to measure the impact of the program on the individuals’ learning outcomes and the organization’s goals.

Judi Heile, M.A. in labor & employment relations, is assistant academic dean at the College of Mount St. Joseph, where she oversees nontraditional programs for adult students and the Mount’s partnerships with TriHealth, Children’s Hospital Medical Center and St. Elizabeth Medical Center. For more information, visit www.msj.edu/academics/waystolearn/. Reach Heile at judi_heile@mail.msj.edu or 513-244-4630.