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Feds Are Enthusiastic About New Higher Ed Benefit

Hundreds of applications are in already for three-week-old program offering employees reduced tuition to obtain degrees online.

A new program that offers federal employees heavily-discounted tuition rates to pursue college degrees online is proving pretty popular only a few weeks after its launch.

Champlain College, which announced its partnership with the Office of Personnel Management in late April, has received approximately 300 applications from federal employees interested in enrolling in the education program, according to data from the school. More than 25,000 unique visitors have visited the OPM online portal seeking information about the truEd program.

The benefit, offered through Champlain College’s online continuing professional studies division, offers feds, their spouses and adult dependent children access to more than 60 certification, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in various areas, including cybersecurity, digital forensics, health care administration and human resources management. There are no eligibility restrictions, but feds and family members “must meet the admissions requirements, apply, and be accepted into the degree or certificate program of interest before they can enroll,” said Sydney Smith-Heimbrock, OPM’s chief learning officer and deputy associate director of strategic workforce planning.  

Feds who enroll in the program can receive up to 70 percent off regular tuition rates through the arrangement.

A similar partnership with the University of Maryland University College, which began in 2014, also has proved popular. Since that program launched, more than 1,200 feds and their family members have taken advantage of more than $765,000 in tuition discounts, according to UMUC’s website.

Jayson Boyers, vice president of Champlain College and managing director of the Division of Continuing and Professional Studies, said the school is able to offer such tuition discounts because it reaches out directly to organizations to see what their education needs are, instead of spending money on advertising to compete for students. Online students also cost less than traditional 18- to 22-year-old college students who require campus housing and the typical in-person university support services. “Instead of advertising, we’re working with employers to help them equip their workforce with the necessary skills to move their business models forward, or in OPM’s case, for their agencies to accomplish their mission critical goals,” Boyers said.

The Burlington, Vt.-based college has 57 alliances with various institutions, including Cisco and AT&T, that offer those organizations' employees access to online education at a reduced cost. Champlain does not receive any sort of tax break, subsidy or other financial incentive from the government in exchange for the partnership with OPM, Boyers said.

“Our partnership with OPM is the same really as our partnership program with the 57 national partners we have,” he said. “So there is no unique incentive that’s hidden, or underneath this partnership.”

Champlain is known in particular for its strong cybersecurity curriculum and is designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education by the National Security Agency, Homeland Security Department and Air Force.

“A number of our programs really fit well with their critical skills needs,” Boyers said, of how the partnership with the federal government through OPM took shape. He said it wasn’t “a race to the bottom” over price, but a consideration of whether the partnership made sense. “Do we have the programs that will add value to what OPM is trying to do across their workforce and across the agencies? That was the conversation.”

Boyers said more schools should broker partnerships with the private and public sectors to help meet the continuing education needs of the workforce. “There is plenty of opportunity and plenty of possible students out there that need ongoing lifelong training and education,” he said. “One college, one university can’t do it. We’re creating a pathway that we hope might lead others along the same line.”

(Image via  / Shutterstock.com)

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