Healthcare Giant Anthem to Expand Online Degree Program


It's becoming increasingly common for some of the largest employers in America to send their employees to college so that the company will have a workforce worthy of higher-level positions. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, which is one of the largest health insurance companies in the US, announced that they will be expanding a pilot program that allows their employees to receive an online degree at no cost.

Employee Starann Freitas said of her new degree, which was funded by Anthem:

I'd always wanted one, but life responsibilities got in the way. … My supervisor sat me down and said it was time for me to move on and use my skills in a better position.

After completing her degree, she was promoted from an administrative assistant to corporate communications specialist.

To qualify for a funded associate's or bachelor's degree, employees must work at least 20 hours a week and have been with the company for at least six months. They can then attend Southern New Hampshire University's online program called College for America. They can receive degrees in business, nonclinical healthcare, healthcare administration, or communications, writes Bob Herman of Modern Healthcare.

According to Anthem spokeswoman Gene Rodriguez, more than half of its 55,000 employees don't have a college degree. With more college-educated employees, the company hopes to have more employees available to fill leadership positions.

Samantha Schoenfeld of Fox CT quoted Jill R. Hummel, president of Anthem:

Anthem is committed to offering its associates a robust benefits package that goes beyond salary and health benefits. Our partnership with College for America has proven successful for our parent company associates who participated in the pilot program in New Hampshire and we want to build on that success by providing opportunities for education, development and career advancement to all our associates.

However, the employee is not guaranteed a promotion after finishing their degree, and the employer can't be sure newly-graduated employees won't leave to take another job.

Anthem is the third large company to instate a policy like this. This April, Starbucks announced that it would cover 4 years of tuition with Arizona State University's online program. Soon afterwards, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles promised college tuition for its dealership employees via Strayer University.

Colin Van Ostern, chief marketing officer for College of America, said:

Our typical student is 40 years old, slightly more likely to be a woman, slightly more likely to be a minority, and most likely didn't have parents who attended college.

However, many online degree programs struggle with a poor completion rate, writes Akane Otani of Bloomberg Business. The investments these companies are making, therefore, might not pay off.

Julian Alssid, chief workplace strategist at College for America, said:

Companies are really stepping up and treating advancing their employees' education as a key corporate undertaking– not just something to do to be nice.

According to Luther Turmelle of the New Haven Register, College for America is unique in that instead of taking traditional classes, students complete projects to advance toward their diploma.

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