STAR PHOENIX: Why big firms pay for college

Career College Central Summary:

  • Two years ago, Starann Freitas had no college degree. "I'd always wanted one, but life responsibilities got in the way," says Freitas, 52. She worked as an administrative assistant for health insurer Anthem Inc., answering phone calls and scheduling meetings.
  • Eight months later, that had changed. Freitas enrolled in an online associate's degree program at Southern New Hampshire University's College for America in May 2013 and graduated the following spring. With her degree, she was promoted to corporate communications specialist.
  • "My supervisor sat me down," Freitas says, "and said it was time for me to move on and use my skills in a better position." The cost of her degree: nothing. Anthem picked up the tab.
  • Anthem, one of the largest health insurance companies in the U.S., this month announced it would expand the pilot program through which Freitas got her degree. The company will pay for all employees who work at least 20 hours a week and have at least six months at the company to get an associate's or bachelor's degree from Southern New Hampshire University, which runs an online program called College for America.
  • Anthem becomes the third large U.S. company to announce a similar investment in their employees' educations: Starbucks, which has partnered with the University of Arizona's online program, said in April that it would cover four years of tuition for its employees, an expansion of a two-year free tuition program it announced in June 2014.
  • Last month, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said it would roll out its own college tuition program for dealership employees through Strayer University, a for-profit institution that offers courses online.
  • In theory, programs like this are a win for both employer and employee. Companies end up with a more skilled workforce and promising employees it can promote (cheaper than recruiting and training new hires), and workers gain credentials that might help them move up. "Our goal is to keep enhancing the skills of our associates so we can help them grow and develop their careers," says Jose Tomas, executive vice-president and chief human resources officer of Anthem.

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