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Innovative partnership offers community college tuition

JBS USA announced last week that it would begin paying community college tuition for children of JBS Greeley Beef employees. The new program is a benefit of employment for the company’s hourly workers. Currently, the benefit is available to only one child per employee and students must attend Aims Community College. To qualify, the employee must have worked for the company for at least one year.

Aims Community College operates multiple campuses in Northern Colorado. Its main campus is in Greeley, but it also serves Fort Lupton, Loveland and Windsor. The program will pay for tuition and fees for up to two years. Aims Community College offers more than 200 degree and certificate programs.

The program is one of a growing number of programs that some employers have designed as a benefit for their employees. Earlier this year, Hormel Foods announced that it would offer community college tuition to dependents of its employees.

While many employers offer tuition-reimbursement plans for their employees, fewer companies extend the benefit for their employees’ children. A community college tuition benefit is somewhat different from tuition reimbursement, anyway. Under a tuition reimbursement plan, the employee must enroll in, pay for and complete the class, then seek reimbursement. In the case of dependent tuition benefit programs, the employer pays for the student’s community college tuition and fees up-front. Students or their families must still cover the cost of books and supplies.

In part, employers want to recognize the difficulty that some people have in affording even low-cost community college tuition for their children. Community college tuition benefits employees’ dependents, but it is also low-cost, high-value support for the employer’s community. Additionally, most dependent tuition benefit programs are not taxable to the employee if the beneficiary meets the federal definition of a dependent for tax purposes.

Community college tuition programs benefit everyone

Employer-sponsored ctuition benefits for dependents is another way to provide free community college options. While these programs are limited in scope, they don’t just serve the needs of the employee. These sponsorship programs can improve recruiting and retention for the employer. They can also improve the relationship between the employer and the community college. Larger employers can also create a reliable pipeline of new and continuing students. Program dollar- or time-limits can also encourage students to complete degree programs on time.

Community colleges should work with local employers to establish dependent-community college tuition programs. Coordinated programs could help students secure additional assistance to cover the cost of transportation, childcare, books and supplies. This would allow students to maximize the benefit offered by their parent’s employer. It would also help ensure students complete programs if their employer-sponsored tuition benefit expires before the student completes his or her degree requirements.

WCC needs an administration that will spend more time focusing on creative ways to get students into its classrooms, and less time dreaming up ways to divert tax dollars away from education and toward unrelated interests.

Photo Credit: Mizzou CAFNR, via Flickr