The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Manchester’s Anthem building seen from the front of the CfA offices. Ryan Lessard photo.

College as an employee benefit
SNHU teaming with big companies to provide free and discounted degrees

By Ryan Lessard

Southern New Hampshire University is leading the way for competency-based higher education, partnering with companies that want to make higher ed an employee benefit. The recently announced partnership between the school and Anthem, a major health insurer with offices in New Hampshire, was a new milestone for SNHU’s College for America.

Targeting business
When SNHU’s College for America made national news for being the first competency-based college institution to obtain federal approval for student aid in 2013, much of the focus was on the comeuppance of the direct assessment model. It was a novel concept for a student to get federal loans or grants for something other than the traditional college credit hour, and it still is. But competency-based learning has been around for a while. College for America builds on what places like Western Governors University in Utah or Excelsior College in New York have done for years. 
But what makes CfA unique is that you enroll through your job.
Colin Van Ostern is chief marketing officer for CfA. He says the school’s delivery model requires partnerships with the companies that employ its students.
“We primarily just take students through an employer,” Van Ostern said. “There are not many other schools that are really focused on workforce development and competency-based education at the same time. I’m not sure I can think of an exact parallel.”
Van Ostern says CfA has partnerships with about 65 employers and pilot programs in several others, including McDonald’s.
“Right now healthcare is probably where we see the most interest and most students. Insurance and financial services would be second behind that,” Van Ostern said.
The healthcare sector is especially interested in CfA’s programs because the sector is adding jobs and its front-line jobs are growing more complex, he said.
Other companies partnered with CfA include AmeriHealth, Delta Dental, Erie Insurance Group, Concord Hospital, Catholic Medical Center and Partners HealthCare.
Anthem deal
The recently announced partnership between the school and Anthem, a major health insurer with offices in New Hampshire, was a new milestone for CfA.
“Anthem is the largest employer who’s made it completely free for all their employees,” Van Ostern said.
Anthem had already offered up to $5,000 in tuition reimbursements each year for its 55,000 eligible employees. The programs at CfA cost half that. If a student takes four years to complete their bachelor’s degree, the bill would normally total $10,000 with no additional fees.
“Our model at College for America is specifically built to remove the main barriers that stand between working adults and higher education,” Van Ostern said. “One of the biggest ones is cost.”
Colin Manning at Anthem says the New Hampshire office partnered with CfA in a pilot program two years ago. The program was pitched to corporate and it made the online college available to the whole company.
“Since the announcement that this has gone nationwide, we’ve seen a huge interest from our associates who have gone and explored and have even begun enrolling,” Manning said.
Employees will still have the option to use their reimbursement money at other schools, Manning said, but the company is actively encouraging workers to enroll in the CfA programs.
There are about 34,000 Anthem workers without a college degree, and Manning says that’s a problem for a company like Anthem that wants to promote primarily from within.
Since there are no lectures or class time of any kind, students work at their own pace.
Van Ostern said some have earned their associate’s in only six months, but that’s rare. Most students take two to two and a half years to complete an associate’s degree and, based on that, Van Ostern estimates it would take four to five years to earn a bachelor’s.
“For most of our students, school is not the most important thing in their life,” Van Ostern said. “Usually, it’s the third most important thing. Usually, family comes first and their job comes second and we come third.”
Van Ostern says students can defer payment until the end of a semester after they get reimbursed by their employer, so they won’t have to worry about the up-front costs. 
As seen in the June 25, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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