Higher Education is a Key to Economic and Employment Security

By Kathleen Eischeid, Edcor Business Development Coordinator

For businesses facing economic crises and workers facing employment uncertainty, higher education is a key to economic and employment security during recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. To recover economically, businesses need to be able to return to full productivity and service delivery. To fully participate in society and the economy, employees need to have employment security once again. Higher education is a key to economic and employment security for all stakeholders.

Equity in access to higher education has been an ongoing concern in the United States. Many lower socio-economic students, first-generation students, and working adults have been unable to seek post-secondary education for several reasons, the main one being financial. Employer tuition assistance programs are very effective resources for increasing access to education for all. Employer tuition assistance programs are also a tool for businesses to build talented and skilled workforces. During this time of crisis the need for higher education is greater than ever, as are the benefits.

Strada Education conducts weekly surveys that show American’s concerns about higher education and employment during the COVID-19 crisis. The April 22-23 survey shows that an estimated 28 million Americans, about 11 percent of the population, have cancelled education plans.  Cancelling education plans, for most nontraditional students, is an economic response to the coronavirus. For many nontraditional students, who have family obligations and financial responsibilities, while they are facing layoffs and furloughs, higher education is something they have to put off until later. Malik Brown, executive director of Graduate! Philadelphia, a nonprofit that works to help low-income adult students, says, “If you need to focus on making sure you and your children have food, shelter — education comes after those things.”   Tuition assistance programs can help people keep higher education as a priority.

Stopping out of higher education doesn’t mean that students don’t understand that higher education is a key to economic and employment security during recovery from COVID-19. Strada Education surveys show that 57 percent of people are worried about losing their jobs. One-third of people believe that if they do lose their jobs, they will need more education to find a different job that is comparable to the one they have lost. Their thinking is correct. During previous recessions many low-skill jobs were lost and never returned during the recovery. “Higher education is a generally highly productive path for redirecting large swaths of the unemployed – many of whom are in jobs that may not exist in the not so distant future – to upskill,” says John Aubrey Douglass, of the Center for Studies in Higher Education at University of California, Berkeley. “Higher education has an ongoing and crucial role to play in fostering socio-economic mobility, innovation and economic recovery.”

Employers hold a key to fostering these recoveries. Providing tuition assistance to employees help those that are most vulnerable develop skills that will ensure their economic and employment security. Employees that are first-generation students can pursue higher education when they have financial support from employers. Many first-generation student are concerned about taking on debt, but understand they need post-secondary education.  Tuition assistance support for employees that are raising children while they pursue higher education has immediate and long-reaching effects. That involves about 25 percent of today’s college students and a large percentage of employees. An income increase of $1,000 due to advancement or a better job can result in a 27 percent increase in child cognitive development. Long-range, parents’ higher education attainment results in higher completion rates for their children.

Providing tuition assistance for employees will help businesses rebound from the economic crisis they are facing. In recent years, employers have struggled to fill skill gaps. Those challenges will be even greater when employers need to build efficient workforces that have knowledge and top skills. Businesses that recognize higher education is a key to economic and employment security during the recovery from this virus will be ahead of their competitors. They will use their tuition assistance programs strategically to build their workforce, productivity and service delivery.