Trinity Bastin, Elena Bautista Rios and Janet Reyes all work at Amazon’s fulfillment center near the Colorado Springs airport. When they’re not at work, they’re probably in class or taking online courses at Pikes Peak State College on the business tab.
Bastin wants to get a degree in computer science, Bautista Rios hopes to become an elementary school teacher, and Reyes is enrolled in a general studies program with the intention of deciding later which university major she will pursue. The three women hope to graduate in a few years without incurring student loan debt, as Amazon will pay all tuition and fees up to $5,350 a year as long as they remain employed by the retail giant. detail online.
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Amazon is among a growing number of major employers offering to pay tuition and other higher education costs to help attract and retain employees amid a labor shortage in nationwide which is not expected to be resolved anytime soon. UCHealth also pays for the cost of dozens of college programs for its employees across the state to access higher-paying jobs by earning everything from pharmacy technician and phlebotomist certificates to bachelor’s and master’s degrees in respiratory therapy, social work. and behavioral health.
Many other businesses in Colorado Springs, including Chipotle, Lowes, Target, Walmart, and Waste Management, offer a similar advantage through Denver-based Guild Education and its network of colleges and universities, which includes the University of Denver and the College of Business. at Colorado State University. Guild Education offers more than 2,200 academic programs through its network of higher education institutions, ranging from high school completion and English as a second language to software engineering and product management.
Rachel Romer Carlson launched Guild Education in 2015 to help employers bridge the gap between what employees wanted and what employers could afford when it comes to educational benefits that help entry-level and low-income workers access careers. better paying jobs. The company has raised $378.5 million in venture capital since then to expand its reach, doubling in the past year the number of students using its platform which is now available to more than 4 million workers.
“Our research has shown that 63% of workers will stay with their employer if given the opportunity to grow and grow in their careers,” Romer Carlson said. “Companies can help by offering education and professional mobility. This allows employees to stay with the company.
“A major idea from Guild’s early work is that employers can help their employees avoid (student loan) debt entirely and we’re helping employers find a way to do that.”
Debt-free education programs were launched by Starbucks and Amazon over the past decade to provide broader educational benefits than the tuition reimbursement programs that many employers have offered for decades, but were mostly used by white collars. Debt programs appeal to a wider range of the workforce because employees don’t have to find the money to pay for tuition and books and wait months for reimbursement from their employer.
“Asking a worker to pay up front (for college courses) and then pay it back at the end of the year, this often meant workers would put those costs on a credit card or get a payday loan. , so reimbursement worked for white collar workers. workers, but not for the entry-level workforce,” said Romer Carson. “The return on investment (from direct payment for college tuition) is so important that employers should ensure that every employee has this opportunity.”
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An April Harvard Business Review article written by Guild and Walmart executives said the financial burden of enrolling in higher education programs is the biggest barrier to enrollment and the main reason students drop out. the university. Results from Denver-based restaurant chain Chipotle showed that employees participating in its free college education program (via Guild) are 350% more likely to stay with the company and seven times more likely to join. At the direction.
Amazon’s program with Pikes Peak State College, which is not run by Guild (although the college is looking to join the Guild program), began May 31 and has already attracted 100 students – mostly for technology courses information, health care and general studies, said Chelsy Harris, associate vice president of strategic partnerships at the college. The average age of program participants is 28, with the majority having little or no college experience, she said.
“You can save money by spending money on an education benefit to improve (employee) retention. This can be a win for both the employee and the organization,” said Harris, “In addition to helping employees avoid debt (student loans), programs like this help people get the education they need for decent paying jobs that provide opportunities for career advancement. This doesn’t have to be a full two- or four-year degree, it can be certifications that can be earned much faster.
None of the three Amazon employees knew about the company’s Career Choice program before taking jobs at the massive fulfillment center, but all three said they would stay with the company until until they graduate, and maybe after. Bastin, 22, said she probably wouldn’t work at Amazon again without the college payout program and would likely stay with the company if offered a job in her new career field after finishing the program.
“I took college courses in the past, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do (as a career). I finally got it,” Bastin said. “I heard about the (Career Choice) program from my manager, so I looked into it. I had read that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs were in high demand, so there would be more opportunities I appreciate having the option to charge for my university (courses) because they are very expensive.
Reyes, 29, wants to complete a four-year degree, but hasn’t decided what career she wants to pursue, so hasn’t chosen a major. However, she eventually wants to start her own real estate business to buy houses and turn them into short-term vacation rentals.
Bautista Rios, 24, has just started the early childhood education program at Pikes Peak State College but eventually wants to transfer to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She said her niece and nephew and her love of children inspired her to work towards becoming a teacher and she started taking college classes three years ago with financial aid, but the Amazon program will make the easier and cheaper to graduate.
UCHealth’s Ascend program, which pays entry-level and other lower-paid employees to take college courses to access higher-paying jobs, started in February and has already attracted 126 employees to southern Colorado. , including Kristine Hoffner. The 20-year-old UCCS student, who will graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree in molecular cellular biology, was hired in September 2021 as a phlebotomist and used the program to complete his medical assistant training; she eventually wants to use the program to further her education to become a physician assistant.
“One of the reasons I applied to UCHealth is because I want to be a physician assistant and can continue to work there and gain the 1,200 hours of clinical experience I will need to achieve that goal. I wanted to get my foot in the door with UCHealth (as a phlebotomist) and continue to climb the clinical ladder,” Hoffner said. “Programs like this allow companies to keep great employees and give them the opportunity to grow in their careers.
Both UCCS and Pikes Peak State College have college payment programs with UCHealth and Aamazon, but neither school has made major efforts to seek such additional agreements with local employers.
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However, some employers are already considering such programs; Ent Credit Union, which already reimburses employees up to $10,000 a year for college tuition, is considering expanding to pay for tuition directly. Chris Beiswanger, director of admissions at UCCS, said other companies have reached out to him to learn more about the Amazon program so they can offer a similar benefit to their employees, but have yet to set. in place or launched such a program.