Amazon, Walmart, Target are paying for college, but money isn’t everything in education

In The News Piece in CNBC
Shutterstock / Jennifer M. Mason
Sept. 28, 2021

Iris Palmer reacts to major employers offering tuition payments to their low-wage workers and shares how many may have ulterior motives.

Some of the earlier, successful efforts in the employer-sponsored education market were locally-based and included in-person education. As more programs migrate to nationally scaled online degrees, inherent challenges in that learning model will be tested. It is an efficient model for employers and education leaders, and it holds promise, but it remains unproven on a large scale.

“We don’t know much about the value of these programs to workers,” said Iris Palmer, a senior advisor for higher education and workforce with the education policy program at New America. “We don’t have great data.”

Among Palmer’s concerns: it is a good messaging vehicle for companies right now, and an easier and cheaper way to recruit than continually increasing wages or improving jobs. “In a world where there is increased worker power and labor power, it’s a way to change the subject, say ‘it is a transitional job’ and helping people move up,” she said.

It can reduce regulatory and public opinion pressure on the companies, which is valuable to them, and as a result, Palmer says it is appropriate to approach these programs with skepticism. But education experts also say knee-jerk skepticism about the companies’ motivation won’t ultimately help employees. The goal should be to increase participation in these programs and that requires understanding the reasons why so many adult learners don’t go back to school, and even if they do, don’t complete degrees.

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