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Innovation and Affordability: A College Program for Working Adults

The EvoLLLution | Innovation and Affordability: A College Program for Working Adults
By working with key stakeholders from across the institution, Loyola SCPS crafted a program for working adults that all but negates the financial concerns that often weigh on this demographic.

When I started my present position at Loyola University Chicago, I dove into the statistics on our enrollment numbers. I specifically wanted to understand why so many accepted students do not ultimately enroll in classes. I soon discovered that the number one reason accepted students never cross the line to enrollment is that they think (and sometimes just assume) that they cannot afford Loyola.

Loyola’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS) has been serving adult students for 100 years with a focus on leadership, career success and meaningful life. But we know we still are not reaching enough eligible, prospective students. And in my outreach to corporations, I often hear the demand for new financial initiatives (not just tuition discounts) that appeal to working professionals. Competition for students is fierce, so we sought to create an innovative program—something unique to Loyola that showcases our commitment to adult learners and their career success.

Father Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., Loyola’s president and CEO, had the initial idea of cost sharing with corporations to make attaining a bachelor’s degree more affordable. Since its inception, the plan has changed through a few iterations, and eventually morphed into a tuition reimbursement matching program.

The final product is the SCPS Fellows Program. This initiative is designed to support employer tuition assistance programs through a matching grant of up to $5,250 (so employers can double their support provided to employees for education). This is how it works:

  • Companies nominate their high-performing, rising employees (who have not completed a bachelor’s degree) to be SCPS Fellows.

  • Nominated individuals apply to Loyola and interview.

  • If accepted as a Fellow, Loyola matches what the student’s employer provides for tuition (with a cap of $5,250). So if a student is awarded $5,000 from their company for tuition reimbursement, he or she will receive an additional $5,000 from Loyola per academic year. In total, that SCPS Fellow receives $10,000 each year for school.

The initiative applies to those completing their bachelor’s degree online and/or in-person courses at any of the Loyola campuses. Students are still eligible for state and federal aid.

Our biggest challenge in launching the program was internal coordination. Many meetings and phone calls occurred that included the Bursar’s office, Financial Aid, Records and Registration, Marketing, and the IT team. The Bursar’s office recommended treating this program as a scholarship (instead of treating it as a grant, as was initially done). This alleviated issues for them and we were able to streamline some of our standard scholarship processes for the Fellows. The Bursar also created a custom payment plan for Fellows, eliminating fees for deferred payments, which was greatly appreciated. IT was helpful in creating a customized report that anyone working on the program internally can run to access Fellows and their information. There is a dedicated employee in each department (Financial Aid, Bursar, etc.) that works with Fellows to make sure their needs are being met. With a great deal of coordination and communication, we are making sure that Fellows’ needs come first.

Ultimately, the program creates an affordable and attainable means for working adults to focus on degree completion and, as Fellows, they are guaranteed to graduate with little to no debt. This allows students the opportunity to focus on their studies and work-school-life balance instead of worrying about how to pay their bills.

The Fellow program also has a lot of benefits for employers. Strong leaders realize that a workforce with a greater percentage of college graduates is a strategic advantage, and can result in better organizational performance. Loyola’s corporate partners can use this program as a career ladder for their employees to advance faster. Nominating and supporting SCPS Fellows shows the employee that their company is investing in them as future leaders. Matching funds for their tuition reimbursement programs also means that, over the long run, the company ultimately has more money available to provide to more employees.

As one employer commented in his nomination form:

“[Our employee] is a high-performing, dedicated employee who has tremendous potential in our company. Given her knowledge, experience and interests, she is on a solid trajectory for assuming greater responsibilities within [her department]. Her growth path can lead to more complex program management on a regional or global basis, as well as people management responsibilities. I believe the Fellows Program at Loyola will bolster her knowledge base and prove to be an important building block in her career path. [Our employee’s] entire management team at the company supports her in this endeavor, and we are excited for her to complete this degree.”

SCPS has always been an attractive school for adult learners for a growing number of reasons (a quality degree, convenience, flexibility, online classes, transfer friendliness, esteemed faculty, and more). But we hope that if finances are the one challenge standing between a student and a diploma, this program will help to overcome that obstacle. It is our generous alumni donors who share the vision for success and make funding possible to support our adult learners by breaking down financial barriers.

At Loyola, we frequently use the tagline, “preparing people to lead extraordinary lives.” Our SCPS Loyola alumni tell us that this stands true. With the Fellows Program, we hope to reach a larger number of potential students, and help them achieve their goals.

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