Adding Flexibility to Corporate TrainingDiane Johnson | Program Director for The Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, University of Utah
Companies that thrive in tough economic conditions are those that know how to maximize their available resources. Doing more with less while increasing the competitiveness of their products is the key to survival. During tough times corporations are hesitant to bring on additional employees. Instead they look to the talents and skill sets of existing employees. In searching for solutions, companies hope that colleges and universities can provide the additional education and training they need their employees to have.
Unfortunately, most working adult students encounter two significant obstacles as they pursue additional training at traditional institutions of higher education. The first is rigid scheduling of course offerings that require synchronous participation. Working adults cannot leave their lives and their jobs to attend school. Companies frequently provide tuition reimbursement benefits for employee schooling. The company is investing in their employees so that, in the end, the company can benefit from the increased expertise. Employees realize that they must continue to do well in their jobs in order to keep those jobs and continue to benefit from their tuition benefits. That means that working adult students must find a way to balance the responsibilities associated with their jobs, school, and personal lives. To do this, adult students need the flexibility that asynchronous college program and course structures can provide.
One notable model of flexible instructional delivery is Western Governors University’s asynchronous competency based model. Utilizing technological learning platforms and other technology, students can stay in control of when and where they study. I have a cousin who works for a very large communications company. His company needed him to increase his business administration skill set. He knew he needed the MBA to advance in his career and secure his future at the company. My cousin travels all over the world and his schedule is somewhat unpredictable. Attending a traditional university would have been impossible. Fortunately, because of WGU’s innovative model, my cousin has completed most of the work for his MBA while on airplanes traveling to and from work locations. Western Governors University and others like it are providing options to working adult students and their employers.
A second obstacle is cost. Historically, the more innovative and flexible educational options have been very expensive. Even when companies have generous tuition reimbursement programs, high costs of attendance at many of the institutions prohibited many employees from going to school. Without viable options available for outsourcing professional training to colleges and universities, companies have maintained their own training departments. The sheer amount of information available in the world and the rapid evolution of technology require increasingly specialized and varied expertise. These requirements far exceed the capacity of a single company based training department. What options do companies have?
One promising option is New Charter University and its parent company, University Now. NCU is striving to be the highest quality and most affordable educational option for companies and their employees. The founders of University Now believe that relevant educational opportunities for today’s business world can be relevant, rigorous, and completely affordable. By leveraging the best technology and teaching practices, University Now is offering undergraduate degrees at $199 a month and graduate degrees for about $330 a month. The goal is that students graduate with no debt and a great education. What a deal for employers! Western Governors University sets tuition at about $3000 for a 6-month term. This is very comparable to attendance at most state institutions.
Both of NCU and WGU realize that in today’s world, universities must be run more like businesses to survive. State funding for higher education has decreased dramatically in recent years. For years, public colleges and universities have been able to run without much attention to the proverbial bottom-line. Now, they must take a hard look at how they spend money and on what it is spent. The American people are not going to tolerate any more increases in tuition. Most of us are aware of the astronomical increases in tuition over the last few years. I encourage readers to review the work of Jane Wellman, Executive Director of the Delta Cost Project.
To my colleagues in traditional higher education, I respectfully submit to you that the landscape of education and training has changed forever. It is not going to return to the way it was even if and when the economy improves. The fact is that now employers and their employees have choices. They have choices as to how and when they receive education and how much it costs. Working adult students and their employers are our customers and they want the best value for their money. We will continue to see dramatic increases in enrollments in flexible and affordable programs such as New Charter University and Western Governors University. Consider also the free courses offered through MIT, Harvard, and Stanford. The possibilities are vast for how companies could use these kind of educational opportunities for their employees. Institutions of higher education can’t afford to ignore these kinds of initiatives. What is clear is that out of necessity, employers are becoming more accepting of degrees and credentials from these non-traditional institutions and through non-traditional methods. The nature of the currency that is a college degree and advanced schooling is changing. Employers and their employee students are the instructional designers and the marketplace is the test.