Making Education More Accessible for Employees

Posted on December 20, 2016 • Category: College Going

By Andrea Jaramillo

For many workers, going back to school to get a degree is something close to impossible, either because of lack of money, time or encouragement.

In Arizona, one major university and three companies decided to change this.

The University of Arizona has partnered with GEICO, Caterpillar Inc. and the Salt River Project to design and implement accessible degree programs for employees through their online programs.

“The vision for this partnership is not just how can we develop broader relationships with different corporate partners so we can provide educational access to their employees, but also to help in other areas where we can mutually benefit from the partnerships,” said Melissa Vito, UA’s senior vice president of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management and senior vice provost for Academic Initiatives & Student Success.

Investment in education is one major concern for both educational institutions and companies in the state. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, 60 percent of Arizona jobs will require some training beyond high school by 2018.

“It’s important that we have opportunities for people who are employed here to stay here, to see a future here - it’s critical to growth in Arizona,” Vito said.

That is why UA is reaching out to major companies in order to build a bridge between education and the workforce.

“One of our strategic initiatives is our ability to work with the companies that are here to help them invest in their people so they improve the education of their own employees and thereby improve our local economy,” said UA’s Director of Strategic Communications David Miller.

But reaching out and developing partnerships is only the first step. The next one is to design an educational program that actually meets the market’s needs.

“We try to work with partners and understand what their interests are and then tailor programs we can offer to meet their needs,” Vito said.

Indeed, customized education came out as one of the most important issues for Arizona citizens, according to the 2009 Gallup Arizona Poll.

UA’s newest program is with the Salt River Project, a local company that provides electric and water services. They are planning to open up bachelor’s degree programs for SRP employees interested in pursuing a degree.

Their more established programs are with GEICO, the insurance company based in Maryland, and Caterpillar, the international machinery and engines manufacturer based in Illinois.

“Caterpillar has a different specific focus - they were looking at either certificates or courses they could apply toward a graduate degree in the College of Engineering,” Vito said.

The master’s program for Caterpillar’s employees is called Mining 360 and it’s designed to help Caterpillar’s lead employees learn the tools they need for the company to move forward in their investments in Arizona.

As for GEICO, their goal was to help their employees continue their education to be able to apply for management or supervision positions in the company.

“GEICO has certain requirements for supervision or management, so we have a large emphasis on education,” said Andrea Baldenegro, GEICO’s Human Resources Benefits Specialist. “We want our associates to invest in themselves.”

UA’s online program was exactly what they were looking for.

“We jumped on it because a lot of our associates do take online classes, but they don’t know what classes to take or how to sign up for them,” Baldenegro said. “The University of Arizona really stepped it up and said ‘we will give you somebody who can go on site and walk your associates through it,’” she added.

These customized progrms incorporate the best of online and in-person education into a new educational experience for the students who find remote schooling more convenient.

The pilot program at GEICO started in August and has eight students right now.

According to Baldenegro, some of their employees had never gone to school on their own or some of them already had a bachelor’s degree but they wanted to fulfill the requirements that the company establishes for other positions.

“Our associates love it because now they can get a bachelor’s degree that they may not have been able to get before,” Baldenegro said.