How to Make College Accessible for All

Billy McGrath on 01 February 2019

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As the cost of tuition skyrockets, people continue to debate whether college is truly worth the price. The debate typically pits the cost of attendance against the salary potential for graduates. For many people, however, lost wages while pursuing higher education are equally as important.

Today, more than half of students in American public schools are eligible for the federal Free and Reduced-Price Meals, which is reserved for low income families. These students will more than likely need to take out loans if they are to attend college, but many also will need a source of income while earning a degree. They cannot forego wages that are necessary to help support themselves and their families. 

Learn-and-earn

Kenzie Academy, a design and coding program in Indianapolis, set out to make the education they provide not just affordable, but accessible, by implementing a learn-and-earn model. Students at Kenzie pay no upfront costs for their education. Instead, they pay a percentage of their salary for a fixed time after completing the program. If they do not get a job, they do not have to pay.

Kenzie goes further, however, to ensure that students can earn some money while they are in school. The academy partnered with Kelly Services, a staffing company, to provide students with part-time work while they are in the program. Kelly pays students $13 per hour for between 20 and 24 hours of work as call center support. Kelly also offers students the flexibility to build their schedules around their classes and even allows them to work fewer hours during periods where they have more time-intensive schoolwork.

The partnership is a win-win-win for Kenzie, Kelly, and the students. Kenzie is able to attract more students, even those that require immediate incomes to support their livelihood. Kelly has access to a pipeline of quality talent and saves money on recruiting. The students receive a high-quality education with no upfront costs, while still earning money on their own schedule. They also gain valuable professional skills through real business experience.

Tapping into new talent

Rick Wallace, VP of Strategic Initiatives for Kelly Services, believes that employers have not yet realized the hurdles that today’s emerging workforce face for education and training. Kenzie’s model is a way to lower these hurdles. 

Employers should also be looking for new ways to support employees that have already spent money on higher education. Providing assistance for employees to pay back some of their education costs can have a meaningful impact on recruitment for employers. Businesses can also use this benefit to tap into new talent pools, especially women and minorities, that have been disproportionately burdened by student loans.

Addressing the needs of today’s changing workforce requires a fresh perspective from employers. Educational benefits requires some upfront investment delivers a huge payoff in recruiting, retention, and employee engagement. Ultimately, what is good for the students is good for business.