By Adrienne Way
Education attainment is on the rise in the United States. Over the last 20 years the rate of higher education attainment has been steadily rising. A report from the US Congress Joint Economic Committee shows that more than 33 percent American above age 25 has a bachelor’s degree and 13 percent of adults have a graduate degree, up from 8 percent 20 years ago. Current trends indicate that higher education attainment will continue to rise. In 2015 almost 70 percent of high school graduates enrolled in post-secondary education the fall after they graduated. About 60 percent of first-time full-time college student finish their degree in six years, a 5 percent increase from 10 years ago.
Lumina Foundation’s Goal 2025 that 60 percent of the population age 25-64 will have a degree or workforce-relevant certificate is only a few years away. The current attainment rate is 47.6 percent, which is an increase of 10 points since 2008.
The increase in attainment rate is encouraging, but more Americans need to complete higher education to complete in a global market. Currently World Economic Forum ranks the US 13th in the percentage of 25-34 year-olds with tertiary education, including “short-cycle,” bachelor, masters or doctoral degrees or their equivalent.
Working age adults that have some higher education but haven’t completed their degrees are some of the people that can move the US closer to meeting Lumina Foundation’s Goal 2025. These are workers who can continue their education to acquire the skills they need to move forward in their careers. With up-to-date skills these employees can help their companies be competitive in a world where education levels are increasing. These are employees who can increase their own performance with additional education and increase the productivity of their company.
There are several actions businesses take as part of their tuition assistance programs to help employees be successful as they work towards higher education completion. Each of these actions will net an employer a positive return on their investment in employees’ education and also raise a company’s productivity.
Link employee education pathways to their career development. When employees can see a link to their education and career advancement they are more likely to persist to completion. Employers can guide employees to develop careers that will fill future needs. The advantage to both employee and employer of supporting career development is long-term development. Employees are developing skills they need now as well as for the future. “Today’s jobs are changing fast, with more than 40 percent of job requirements different from a decade ago,” said Matthew Sigelman, CEO of labor market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies.
Develop a lifelong learning program through TAP. Change is inevitable in the workplace. New technology will demand new skills. The ability to maintain and increase productivity will depend on how well employees can adapt to constant change. Employees will need education throughout their career. “This will be critical as more people seek to return to higher education repeatedly during their careers, compelled by the imperative to stay ahead of relentless technological change,” says Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University.
Provide the financial resources employees need to access higher education. Working adults often have dependents to support, a household to maintain, and other financial responsibilities. This can make it difficult to meet education expenses. Eighty percent of adult learners say tuition, fees or other education expenses are the main barriers for returning to school. Covering these expenses will make it possible for employees to begin or return to their program of higher education attainment.
Providing tuition assistance will also help employees reduce the time to completion of their education goal. If they have resources to enroll each semester it will build momentum and shorten the path to higher education attainment and elevated contributions to their employer.
Offer student loan repayment to ease the burden of student debt. Many employees recognize the need for continuing their education to have the most relevant skills possible. However, they can’t afford to take on new education expenses while making payment on student loans. Helping to relieve this burden by offering student loan repayment assistance will encourage employees to seek continual continue education and skill development.
Encourage all employees to use their TAP to continue their education. From 1974 to 2015 higher education attainment for white adults increased from 14 percent to 36.2 percent, for Black adults from 5.5 percent to22.5 percent and for Latinx from 5.5 percent to 15.5 percent. The increase in attainment is moving in the right direction, but the large differences between racial groups show that many people are acquiring the education that will improve their job potential and their employers’ productivity. TAP can change that.
Adrienne Way is the owner and CEO of Edcor.
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