Overcoming the barriers to higher education

By Kathleen Eischeid, Edcor Business Development Coordinator

The road to higher education completion for adults is not an easy one. Adults face roadblocks and barriers to higher education that make both access and completion difficult. However, this doesn’t mean that they can’t find solutions and successfully navigate the road.

Higher education is more important to adult students than ever before.  The coronavirus has affected virtually every aspect of our lives: It has impacted the way consumers shop and spend money. It has influenced the way businesses operate and deliver services. And in response to these changes the virus has increased the need for workers to develop new skills.

It is important that workers today seek higher education to attain skills they need to work in a world that has changed how it operates. But for many Americans barriers to higher education threaten their ability to continue their pursuit of higher education. The latest Strada Education Public Viewpoint survey shows that about 25 percent of adult Americans plan to enroll in higher education in the next six months.

The motivation for these adults show that they are looking to a future of work beyond the coronavirus and believe higher education is important to a secure future:
• 62 percent agree or strongly agree it would advance their career
• 52 percent agree or strongly agree it would be worth the cost
• 50 percent agree or strong agree it would help them get a job in times of economic uncertainty

These adults also face barriers to higher education:
• 55 percent face time conflicts with work commitments, family responsibilities and class schedules are a major problem.
• 49 percent fear they won’t be successful or that they have been out of school too long to successfully return
• 48 percent find that cost is challenge

Overcoming these barriers to higher education is a challenge, but employer education benefits present solutions. Businesses can support their employees’ pursuit of higher education with tuition assistance, career paths that integrate work and higher education, and benefits to employees at all levels.

Overcoming Scheduling Conflicts
Online classes make it possible for students to have a flexible schedule and meet the demands of multiple responsibilities. And a survey from Edcor partner school Champlain College Online shows that most students have confidence in the quality of online education. In this survey 76 percent of adults who have considered going back to school believed that the overall quality of online education is excellent or very good. In this time of the pandemic, these students should be reassured about the quality of their education. With colleges forced to offer most, if not all, classes online, they will be working to ensure that course quality is a top priority.

Overcoming Self-Doubt
Employers that are directly involved in their education benefits programs help solve the barrier of self-doubt in multiple ways. First, employers that offer tuition assistance for multiple levels of attainment can help students start where they are comfortable. Students that fear they won’t be successful or that they have been out of school for too long may want to start in shorter programs, rather than enroll in a degree program. They may be encouraged by successfully completing alternative credentials. With alternative short-term credentials students can update their skills quickly and employers can quickly fill skill demands as they arise. Alternative credentials that are stackable open the way for employees to continue their education as they prove their success.

Also, an employer’s direct involvement in education benefits programs can erase self-doubt. Relating career paths to higher education programs can motivate employees to take on the challenge of higher education. Pearson addresses this issue in a survey that asked employees about anxiety and their careers. They found that employees had anxiety about needing new skills. Employer involvement in education programs helps ease that. “Engaging directly with employees on job advancement and professional development programs can ensure program participation and completion. This type of engagement can also be used to retain current talent.” This involvement benefits both employers and employees. “Employers have the opportunity to support employees through the program search process, and in turn cultivate employee skills that match the business’ skills gap or  strategic goals.”

Overcoming financial barriers
Tuition assistance is an effective vehicle for employers to help employees pursue higher education. The Champlain College survey shows, “that while most adults see the value in higher education to prepare them for advancement in the workplace, ongoing concerns over incurring student debt and affordability are the major barriers to returning to school to complete a certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree.”   Employer education benefits can overcome these barriers to higher education.

About half of working learners are low-income students. Many are first-generation and minority students have not had support that helped them be successful in higher education. The American Association of University Women states that female students, especially those that have dependent children, are at high risk of dropping out and defaulting on loans. Tuition assistance makes it possible for diverse employees like these to access and persist in higher education.

Tuition assistance benefits for all employees will help remove a barrier that limits many people. They create a deeper talent pool that includes many people who have not previously had access to higher education, or who were unable to attain their goals. Strategically using education benefits overcomes barriers to higher education for the benefit of all stakeholders.