Giving the gift of education Featured

8:07am EDT November 22, 2004
The holidays are a time for sharing and re-evaluating your personal and professional goals. What better way to show your employees that you care about their goals than to give the gift of education?

While for many owners and managers, formal education for employees is not high on the list of priorities for business growth and future investment, it is, in fact, worth careful consideration.

Last December, I wrote about how companies are beginning to make larger strides with education assistant programs and how businesses are investing in their workers. In Columbus, the trend continues to catch on, and with good reason. Approximately 50 percent of students receive some type of company reimbursement at the University of Phoenix Columbus Campus. As an organization succeeds, its work force grows, and leaders begin to emerge. And the effect is not as intangible as you might think.

Research shows that education assistance programs can give businesses an edge in recruiting and retaining talent. By strengthening the core competencies of its staff, a company with such a program can count on each employee to provide higher quality work at an increased volume, improving overall productivity. This can translate into wider margins in a well-managed environment.

The American Society of Training and Development found that investing in employee training and education may pay dividends in just a few years. Based on research conducted on publicly held firms between 1996 and 1998, the group concluded that increasing education-based expenditures by $680 per employee yielded an average 6 percent improvement in shareholder return.

The added benefits of higher education for employees can be as enticing as internal training programs. Company-directed instruction may translate to credits toward a bachelor's degree. Many universities have articulation agreements with firms around the nation that allow employees to receive credit for proprietary courses taken for work.

In fact, a growing number of organizations are partnering with learning institutions to develop training programs tailored to their business.

Employer benefits

Higher education remains vital to continued professional success for employees and the organizations for which they work. There are numerous motivators for businesses to offer and encourage education assistance programs, such as:

* Applicable knowledge. While pursuing a degree, employees can master a range of pertinent skills and are exposed to emerging strategies, trends and models for success that may not be utilized by their organization. Many of today's forward-thinking universities focus on working-adult learners by providing real-world applications that are relevant on the job the following day.

* Employee retention. Managers can show their long-term dedication to their team by supporting an employee's educational aspirations. Although the economic downturn has seen businesses of all sizes scale back benefits and perks, savvy firms know that key programs such as education assistance are valued by and benefit employees.

* Perspective. Many schools focus on collaborative learning between students and instructors, stimulating education based on ideas and experiences. By working with a diverse group of peers, adult learners gain valuable new perspectives and can apply these insights to their jobs the next day.

* Flexibility. Nontraditional universities enable working professionals to earn degrees more efficiently by offering manageable course loads and convenient night, evening and online courses. This allows employees to attend classes without missing work.

* Networking. Because classes for today's working adults are typically filled with professionals, it is not uncommon for key business leads or strategic alliances to develop as a result of a collaborative project or regular study group.

This holiday season, give your employees the gift of education -- you just might receive a larger gift in return.

Eric Ziehlke is associate campus director for the University of Phoenix-Columbus Campus. The University of Phoenix is the nation's largest private university, with more than 200,000 students at more than 140 campuses in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Reach him at (614) 433-0095 or Eric.Ziehlke@phoenix.edu.