Louisville, KY., – Mayor Greg Fischer today launched Degrees Work, a city-sponsored startup that works directly with companies and organizations to encourage their employees to return to college and complete a degree.
“With today’s low unemployment rates, companies are in a fierce battle to attract and retain talented employees,” the Mayor said. “Degrees Work offers those companies an affordable way to help more of their employees go back to college to earn 2-year and 4-year degrees – increasing retention and employee engagement while adding skills to their teams.”
For the past seven years, Louisville has been working to improve college attainment through 55,000 Degrees, the city’s education movement. A key part of that has been focused on adult learners. More than 91,000 people in the Louisville area have some college credit but still lack a degree. Many of them work at companies that offer tuition-reimbursement programs and other educational benefits, but often struggle to utilize these benefits to earn the degree they’ve long wanted.
The Degrees Work program brings College Coaches to an employer’s workplace. The coaches provide one-to-one support for employees, helping them find and enroll in a flexible degree program that matches their lifestyle, finances and career goals; find ways to pay for college; and ensure they receive credit for prior learning, including credit transfers.
Mayor Fischer made the announcement during a rally-like event at Humana, which has more than 12,000 employees in Louisville and is the largest company to hire Degrees Work.
“At Humana, we believe that degree attainment is one part of the learning journey for our associates,” said Kevin Stakelum, the company’s talent acquisition director. “We have a variety of programs to support associates in achieving their professional and personal goals. Partnering with Degrees Work, we can now give associates access to expert guidance to apply these educational programs to meet their degree attainment interests.”
In addition to Humana, Louisville Metro Government and Universal Woods have engaged Degrees Work to help their employees return to college.
The program is operated by KentuckianaWorks, the Workforce Development Board for the Louisville area.
“Companies in today’s increasingly competitive global marketplace are looking for higher-skilled and educated workers as never before,” said Michael Gritton, executive director of KentuckianaWorks. “There’s no better way to compete than to take an existing employee who knows your company and give them the knowledge and confidence boost that comes with moving up educationally.”
Degrees Work brings added value to employers through its formal partnership with seven area colleges and universities — Bellarmine University, Indiana University Southeast, Ivy Tech Community College, Jefferson Community & Technical College, Spalding University, Sullivan University and the University of Louisville.
Each of the schools have assigned a staff member to work with Degrees Work clients to make sure the returning-to-college process is as smooth as possible – including priority admission and waived application fees.
Employers pay a sliding scale fee for Degrees Work services, starting at $3,000 a year for small companies with up to 10 employees, and increasing for larger businesses.
Degrees Work is part of the 55,000 Degrees movement, which has set a goal of 50 percent of Louisville’s workforce earning at least an associate’s degree by 2020.
“We’ve always known that college coaching for adult learners would be critical to the success of this initiative,” said Mary Gwen Wheeler, executive director of 55,000 Degrees. “About 43 percent of our overall growth in degree attainment last year came from people between the ages of 35 and 44. The college coaches of Degrees Work will help other adults join that movement, figure out ways to juggle their responsibilities, navigate financial and program decisions and get a college degree as quickly and affordably as possible.”
Degrees Work joins a companion initiative — the KentuckianaWorks College Access Center (KCAC) — in helping people earn a college degree. The College Access Center, which is federally funded, is particularly focused on working with individuals who are lower-income or first generation college-goers. Individuals can contact the KCAC at (502) 584-0475.