Business leaders, educators, policy makers and the general public each have ideas about the value of college education. They may disagree about the value in terms of cost or the final “product” that is produced. Looking at a college education in multiple ways sheds light on its value. The value of education isn’t just to have a degree as an end-product. One value of education is how it relates to workers’ position in the workplace and career progress.
The American Association of College and Universities (AACU) reports in Fulfilling the American Dream: Liberal Education and the Future of Work, about the value of higher education to business executives and hiring managers. Both groups agree that college is important and worth the investment of time and money. Among the executives and managers 63 percent expressed “quite a lot” or a “great deal” of confidence in colleges and universities, which is higher than the general public’s confidence rate of 45 percent.
Both the executives and hiring managers are looking at the college experience through lenses that show what they need in employees. Only 33 percent of executives and 39 percent of hiring managers think graduates are “very well prepared” to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings. They think that that applied and project-based learning experience would give graduates a good advantage. The skills learned and practiced in applied learning will transfer to work.
This is one area where students who have tuition assistance benefits from their employer have a real advantage. While they are working in their field and taking classes that enhance their knowledge, they have opportunities for hands-on application of what they are learning. Businesses recognize the value of hands-on application of knowledge; 93 percent of executives and 94 percent of hiring managers say they are more likely to hire employees with internships or apprenticeships in a company.
For executives and hiring mangers the value of education is in learning skills that apply in many situations. Both groups think that the most important skills are those that apply to all fields: oral communication, critical thinking, ethical judgment, working effectively in teams, written communication and real-world application of skills and knowledge. Students who are working have the perfect setting to hone these skills. Working with co-workers, tackling work assignments, solving problems and communicating results are skills that working learners have the opportunity to develop both in academic and work situations. AACU president Lynn Pasquerella says, “The skills necessary for grads to thrive in the workplace are also required in higher education.” Both academic and work settings provide the opportunity for learning and practicing these skills.
Executives and hiring managers often believe that the value of education is in preparing students for an entry-level job, but they say that students aren’t ready to be promoted. Rather than seeing that as a criticism, educators say that is appropriate. Pasquerella says, “When we talk about the liberal education, it’s often in terms of lifelong learning and preparing students not only for their first job, but for their last job. It underscores the importance of providing the opportunity to engage in high-impact practices and real-world experiences.”
This is one of the important roles of tuition assistance programs. TAP provides educational opportunities that help employees move from one level to the next. In this way, working while learning and TAP is valuable for both students and employers. Nicole Smith, chief economist at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce believes that advancing from one position to the next requires “firm-specific skills.” Employees learn these on the job; if they are engaged in a tuition assistance program designed to develop skills they and the company need, the opportunity for students is even greater.
Many employers believe that a college education has shortcomings; however, 82 percent of executives and 75 percent of hiring managers believe it is very important or absolutely essential for students today to complete a college education. This is how students are prepared to enter the work force. Supporting employees with a tuition assistance plan is how they become prepared for more advanced positions. Andy Chan, vice president for innovation and career development at Wake Forest University believes that employers have a part to play in worker preparation right along with colleges.
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