Education as an Equalizer: New Survey of US Workers Finds Education Is a Catalyst for Change in the Workplace

woman sitting at tale with laptop and books

New study by Bright Horizons EdAssist Solutions finds underrepresented workers are prioritizing advanced education more than counterparts, despite facing more barriers

August 10, 2021 – Bright Horizons EdAssist Solutions today released the first report of the Education Index, a series of research reports that will explore issues related to education. The inaugural report, “Workforce Education and Equity in the Workplace,” which was conducted by Kelton Global, surveyed American working adults on their sentiment and outlook on the role of education for professional growth.  After more than a year of financial insecurities created by furloughs and job losses, data from the report shows working Americans – and particularly those in underrepresented groups – placing a high priority on learning to ensure their futures.

According to the report, Black (90%) and Hispanic/Latino (91%) workers believe learning new skills will be important for them to succeed in the future. Specifically, 87% of Black workers and 80% of Hispanic/Latino workers say completing a certificate program will be important for future success — versus 62% of white workers.  Additionally, 81% of Black and 79% of Hispanic/Latino workers believe a degree will be important for future success, more so than their white peers (50%). Coming out of the pandemic, nearly half (45%) of American workers surveyed state that their education became even more important for their growth in the past year, with Black (55%) and Hispanic/Latino (54%) employees feeling this more strongly than white (41%) workers.

“The data show that underrepresented employees feel that the odds are stacked against them in their careers, and access to education is a key element that can level the playing field in the workplace. This is where employers need to step in or risk their organization’s reputation and employee morale,” said Dr. Jill Buban, General Manager of Bright Horizons EdAssist Solutions.

Obstacles to Education Goals

Even with this premium on education, there are several pervasive roadblocks workers face in achieving their education goals. The top barriers reported include not having the money to pay for the program (30%), not having the time (28%), and having too much going on at work and in their personal lives to take on any new challenges (28%). 

When it comes to underrepresented workers, these obstacles are amplified. Black employees (44%) report the inability to afford education programs as a more prevalent issue than white employees (29%), and working women (36%) are more likely than working men (22%) to report this challenge. Nearly two-thirds (61%) of women said they have not been able to participate in an education program in the past 5 years, while just over half (51%) of men report the same.

Education on the Forefront

With many employers calling employees back to the office in some capacity this fall, employers are going to find that employees have returned with a renewed vision for education, provided by their employer. Three in five (60%) American workers expect employers to offer education assistance benefits, with a similar proportion also expecting employers to offer a broad range of options when it comes to these benefits (57%).

Underrepresented workers, including Black and Hispanic/Latino workers, reported a higher appreciation for education benefits. Compared to white workers (73%), more Black (90%) and Hispanic/Latino (88%) employees are looking to develop and expand their skillsets to advance and grow. Additionally, Black and Hispanic/Latino workers are more likely to believe that improving (86% and 85%, respectively) and diversifying (86% and 80%, respectively) their skillset is more crucial than ever before, as compared to their white peers (71% and 69%, respectively).

A Win-Win for Employers and Employees

While many workers see learning as a pathway to personal betterment, they also see it as a way to improve their performance on the job, thus benefiting their organizations. About one in three (33%) workers were driven to pursue education opportunities by a desire to contribute at a higher level and to bring more value to their organizations (31%). Black workers are more focused on improving their job security than their white coworkers (34% vs. 25%) and setting a positive example for their families (34% vs. 23%). 

Buban adds, “For employers, there is a major benefit in offering career development and education opportunities that will serve to upskill employees and ultimately build a talent pipeline that will bolster recruiting efforts for years to come.”

To download the full 2021 Education Index Report, click here.


The study surveyed 1,017 working adults living in the U.S. This survey was conducted online during the period of May 14 – 23, 2021, and the study has a margin of error of +/- 3.1%.

In this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 3.1 percent from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all personas in the universe represented by the sample. The margin of error for any subgroups will be slightly higher.