Measuring the True Value of a College Degree for Adult Learners in Your Organization

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As the Director of Academic Services here at EdAssist, I am often asked by our clients (HR Administrators, Benefits Managers, and L&D Specialists) to give my opinion on the "value" of a college degree or advanced degree from certain higher ed institutions. Our clients know that the academic advisors on my staff work with thousands of adult learners each year and recommend programs and majors from schools across the country. They also know that our team spends countless hours studying the "ins and outs" of hundreds of college programs, and that we do our best to stay on top of all of the newest innovations that are emerging in higher ed.

So what's your definition of value?

So when I am asked to give my opinion on a particular program or school, I usually respond with a few questions of my own: "How does your organization define value, and is that definition clear to the employees reading your Tuition Assistance Policy?"

I don't ask this question to stump them, or to avoid answering their question myself. I recognize that corporate organizations are often inundated with brochures, phone calls and mailings from colleges and universities that offer everything from onsite programs to special discounts "exclusively" for employees at their organization. I also recognize that this very fact is why a company hired EdAssist in the first place: they need assistance in navigating the higher ed landscape and turn to us to help sift through the programs out there.

But to measure the value of a degree from a particular school, you need to know the motivation of both the person seeking the degree, and in the case of tuition assistance, the organization funding that pursuit.

Too often, organizations make value judgments about schools and their programs based on preconceived notions, perceived reputation, media reports, and unqualified rankings. What they SHOULD be doing is measuring the outcomes. How? Here are three suggestions:

1. Use performance to measure learning outcomes

Have conversations with managers and ASK them if the knowledge base and skills that an employee has obtained from a particular university program is benefiting the organization. For example, if an employee uses tuition assistance to obtain an IT degree from University X, their manager should be able to tell you if that employee has developed the skills they need through that program.

2. Understand what you are buying

Employers spend millions of dollars a year on tuition assistance. They should know what they are actually buying. If you work with an outside vendor to manage your Tuition Assistance Program, leverage your relationship with them to learn about the right type of schools to help develop your workforce. For instance, our EdAssist Education Network is comprised of over 180 strategically selected colleges and universities, offering programs that have proven learning outcomes. Our Network team works directly with the schools, and helps organizations make good well informed choices about what programs are the right fit for their workforce.

3. Bridge the gap between HR/Benefits and the L&D function at your organization

Last week I spoke to one of our largest clients' VP of New Business. He shared with me a story about how he wanted to find the "right" programs for his staff, but felt constrained by their Tuition Assistance Policy (from HR) and the internal training options that were developed by Learning and Development without his input. If the two areas can align, there may be a much better understanding of what the overall company requires of their employees who pursue education and training, and where exactly they can obtain those skills. It is important to engage other stakeholders in the company about workforce development needs and how they should be addressed.

Keep your organization's and employees' goals at the forefront

If you have some time, I would encourage you to take a look at this multi-article spread called "Reinventing College," which was published by Time Magazine last year. It includes a survey of adult learners and higher ed administrators, asking each group to gauge the perceived value of college degrees. In other words, how does the adult learner (buyer) view the product (college education) compared to the seller (university administrator).  In a nutshell, adult learners want to obtain skills that can help them in their jobs. That is not always what universities pitch (they are often focus on broader critical thinking and a "well rounded" education- not bad things by any means, but not always what a working adult is looking for if they are trying to quickly master their craft.)

If you are an employer trying to measure the value of a degree, the answer may be right in front of you. It's weeding through everything else to measure the performance of the person holding the degree that can be the challenge.    
Bright Horizons
About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
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