- Discover Financial Services has joined Walmart in partnering with the University of Florida’s UF Online degree program in what one analyst sees as a shift in approaches for marketing online college courses.
- UF Online is collaborating with Discover through the university’s Employer Pathways program, which higher education tech analyst Phil Hill says is an example of another way for colleges to seek online undergraduate students.
- Discover announced this week that it will pay 100% of an employee's tuition, fees, books and supplies required to obtain a bachelor's degree for select programs at UF Online, Wilmington University and Brandman University, and officials said they believe the benefit will be popular with its 16,500 workers. Walmart recently reported that as many of 68,000 of its 1.4 million employees could sign up for its new online degree benefit.
Hill wrote on his e-Literate blog this week that such efforts may “flip the student acquisition assumptions — primarily driven by employer partnerships, with traditional digital marketing channels as a secondary approach.” He said that UF Online officials say the program is part of an attempt to reduce marketing costs and spend more on faculty members and courses.
“The online education space is maturing and becoming a lot more interesting,” Hill said. But he added that UF Online is focusing on undergraduate students and its approach might not work for master’s degree programs.
In this tight labor market, a growing number of employers are offering generous tuition benefits. Best Buy offers full-time employees reimbursement for tuition and other costs up to $3,500 a year for undergraduates and $5,250 for advanced coursework and UPS covers 100% of tuition, even for part-time employees.
Two fast food chains, McDonald's and Taco Bell, recently announced more support for employee education. Taco Bell is working with Guild Education to structure the benefit, which supports the UF Online corporate plan. The restaurant company said a survey of its employees showed educational assistance was one of the top three benefits they wanted.
However, more than half of companies surveyed in a Society for Human Resource Management report said in 2015 that they offer tuition benefit to retain employees, though few workers take advantage of it.