Dive Brief:

  • InStride, a workforce education venture co-launched by Arizona State University last year, announced two new partners this month.
  • One is the City University of New York’s ​School of Professional Studies, which will offer online programs to employees worldwide. InStride will also team with provider Smart Horizons Career Online Education to offer a path to a high school diploma.
  • The additions come as employers take more interest in postsecondary education benefits and education providers respond to that demand.

Dive Insight:

Education benefits seem to be having a moment in the employment space. In a recent analysis of 13 benefits offerings, WorldatWork found that the use of three of them — employee scholarships, student aid and student loan benefits — showed the biggest year-over-year increase.

The uptick is driven in part by increased investment and simultaneous growth in the number of providers offering education services for employers. InStride is one of those providers, announced in early 2019 as a collaboration between Arizona State and The Rise Fund. At the time of its launch, one of the venture’s stated motivations was to expand access to debt-free higher education.

Some employers, particularly large companies such as Walmart, view tuition assistance as an employee benefit that can be used to train workers in particular aspects of their jobs. Its $1-a-day program lets employees earn postsecondary credentials in fields such as business, supply-chain management, technology and health care. 

Ellie Bertani, now the senior director of associate experience for learning at Walmart U.S., told Education Dive late last year that the company chose those fields because that’s where it expects to add jobs.

“It comes down to the business case for our company,” she said. “It’s hard to get extensive programs like this over the line if you can’t convince executives there’s going to be a clear return on investment.”

Walmart isn’t alone, and the shift in how companies approach education benefits comes as institutions are looking for new pools of students amid a projected decline in the traditional population. One target is the roughly 36 million U.S. adults with some college experience but no degree. 

It is also being aided by growth in online education platforms that let employers offer the opportunity to their workers from wherever they are. 

Yet colleges should note these programs require balancing the needs of the business and workers’ personal goals, sources previously told HR Dive, Education Dive’s sister publication. Employers may plan to direct participants toward training that is most relevant to skill shortages. However, personalization can be a key motivator to encourage participation.

In an interview with Education Dive last year, Steve Ellis, co-managing partner of The Rise Fund, said “there should be an expectation” that large employers would invest in employees’ upgrading their skills to advance “both within and outside of their companies.”

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