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  • Mark Olivito

When The Fortune 100 Rolls Out "Debt free college?"

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

Target made national news last year, with their announcement of launching Debt-Free Education Assistance Program to more than 340,000 Frontline Team Members. Bravo! You can read about in their press release.

Walmart, Starbucks and Amazon have similar programs.

I've gone through many of these, at least at a high level.

Here are the key things I found while studying this:

  • Most programs I see an annual cap, $5,250 per year (equivalent to the IRS tax deduction for this benefit).

  • Generally, each company has a select group of institutions that varry, and On-line is a key theme for the built in flexibility

  • Some are wide open in terms of area off study permitted, others define it more narrowly, to fields like Business or Computer science.

  • Certificates are included, not just Bachelors or associates degree.

  • Funding models differ: Some are "student pays, company re-imburses" others the company pays. Some mention the dreaded FAFSA form which implies there COULD be a calculation for family contribution, loans, etc.

  • Below article, while data lays out some companies on a grid and some factors to evaluate each.

A Review from the Century Foundation

For the record, I think the review link above is anti employer, trying to find things NOT to praise the employer with. These companies are raising wages rapidly, leading a march across the USA to $15 minimum wage while the government has been stuck at $7.25 for years (and states adjusting beyond this.) If they want to restrict to business, that's their choice. That's what Brick by Brick is doing!

How Would I View These Programs?

Here is the major thing I would consider IF I was considering employment with a company that offered this benefit and I wanted help pursuing my degree, here are the major questions I'd be asking:

* Do I want a "certified bachelors degree?" Or just some classes and maybe some certificates?

* Based on above, what is the cost?

* With $5,250 per year cap, how long would it take IF I did not want to go into my OWN pocket?

I looked at a few schools that are tied to the above companies. At a high level it seems that the online undergraduate degree is in the $50,000 market, total, some a bit higher and a couple less. Lets use $50k, nice round number.

At $5,250/year employer cap, that's about 9.5 years to graduate "debt free" in a simplified version that holds financial aid forms off to the side. Nothing wrong with 9.5 years, nor is anything wrong with a $5,250 benefit, in fact these companies should be CELEBRATED. But I think we should take a step back for a moment....

The "gift" of on-line ANYTHING in this world is the unlimited scalability. Meaning, you are not constrained to a physical class, or store with a capacity of say 25, 50, 100. In theory, your supply of available seats for online education is limited.

If that's the case, I'm a bit puzzled that a bachelors degree ONLINE actually costs $50k. So a nice $5,250 employer benefit per year has you grinding away for a decade.

So I why do they charge $50k for an online degree that is presumably MUCH less to deliver? Because they can.

What does Target bring to the table. 300k plus associates. Walmart, 1.6MM. Starbucks, 349k. That's a ton of customers coming at these universities. But the online providers are viewing their seats like fixed classrooms and the corporations aren't yet pushing back on the costs. OR new upstarts like University of the People haven't yet hit mainstream.

My take is simple. On-line, by definition is strictly about learning, not about "experience." You are not wandering through the college quad with a cappucino in hand, talking to friends after class. Your grinding away, getting the info. Is Marketing 101 online at Southern New Hampshire vs University of the People, vs Arizona State Global that much different?

Well there IS one big difference, University of the people is $5k. For the ENTIRE degree.

How does a benefit of $5,250 per year look when the entire degree cost $5k.

That's thinking different. If costs are dramatically cut, then it's all about how can you put the TIME in, to get that degree via University of the People in 4 years or less?

What if you had a day off per week from a full time job to devote too it? Could you find a way to carve out a couple hours a day all other days?

What programs like Brick by Brick aim to do is not just advocate for education with the work integration, but do education in the most effective and efficient manner. $50k vs $5k is a hell of a difference. Both are the same curriculum. Yes, different brand names. If you've gone this far into Brick by Brick I suspect you are more open to "what do I do with that" vs what's the name on the degree.

  • Get the knowledge.

  • Master the knowledge.

  • DEMONSTRATE your mastery of the knowledge, digital portfolio.

  • INTEGRATE your knowledge at WORK, while you are earning $'s and compiling skill.

  • Build your Wealth, measured against a plan.

  • Get the degree. But do it for $5k.

  • Go in front of a Mentor 16 times a year evaluating your progress.

  • Do THIS plan for 4 years.

Tell this story to any employer, and SHOW this to any employer. I'm pretty confident when your competing against any "conventional graduate" across the land, that will be one hell of a story to deny.


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