Back To School: Funding An Ongoing Education1 | 2 |
He also said graduate studies are funded by employers much more often than undergraduate studies at NCSU.
“I don’t think that industry feels it needs to fund an undergraduate program,” Vouk said.
Perhaps it should — there’s been a steady decline in the number of computer science graduates and interest in computer science degrees in the United States since the dot-com bubble burst in 2000.
According to survey results published this year by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, after peaking in 1999 and 2000, interest in computer science as a major fell 70 percent between 2000 and 2005. In the fall of 2005, 1.1 percent of incoming freshmen indicated computer science as their probable major.
According to the Computer Research Association’s 2007 Taulbee Survey, after declining for six years, the number of new computer science majors in fall 2006 was about half of what it was in fall 2000 (15,958 versus 7,798). The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded by doctorate-granting computer science departments fell 28 percent between 2003-2004 and 2005-2006.
“IT workers are a small and declining portion of new U.S. university graduates,” Stevens said. “Clearly, that is not a huge population available for hire.”
This is why Nationwide is proactive in financing its IT professionals’ continuous education.
“In a declining supply market, you have to manufacture a greater supply,” Stevens said. “We asked ourselves how we could most cost-efficiently manufacture more IT workers, and that was to be willing to step up to the plate financially.”
After one year of employment, associates at Nationwide are eligible for the company’s tuition-reimbursement program. They’re allowed an amount capped at $5,250 a year.
“That has to pass the muster of being applicable to the associate’s job,” Stevens said. “So, if you’re vice president of HR, and you’re taking massage therapy classes, that probably wouldn’t work. But if you’re nondegree or approaching a master’s degree, or if you’re looking for specific technical training, we’ll pay for it.”
When it comes to certifications, Nationwide employees have to successfully complete the program, however that’s defined, to qualify for reimbursement.
“Some of them are not test-based, so then it’s just a pass/fail or a complete/incomplete, but they have to successfully complete it,” Stevens said. “Certifications are a big part of what we pay for.”
Stevens said he does not feel incoming IT professionals regard Nationwide’s tuition-reimbursement program as a high-priority draw to coming onboard.
“It might be a secondary benefit when it comes to the recruiting process, but it really isn’t a primary benefit,” Stevens said. “We’re finding that the ability to work on cutting-edge projects, using a skill that is currently in-demand, is so much greater a proportion of the enticement or recruiting process that if they’re choosing between two opportunities, our willingness to support ongoing education might be icing on the cake, but it’s not part of the layers of the cake.”
Once onboard, though, many of Nationwide’s IT associates do take the company up on its offer of tuition reimbursement. But the number is not a sizeable majority of the company’s IT workforce, something Stevens attributes to the difficulty of finding the time to pursue classes and achieve an adequate work-life balance.
“It’s a difficult balance, but it’s table stakes to get in,” Stevens said. “The IT population (not just at Nationwide but nationally) is savvy enough to recognize the incredibly short life cycle of skills’ value, and so they’re aware that part of the price of entry of getting into an IT career is that it’s going to require ongoing maintenance of skill sets.”
For this reason, Stevens said the willingness of companies such as Nationwide to work with IT professionals in scheduling continuous education is as valuable as financing the education itself.
“I would argue that equally as important as the straight-dollar cost is the willingness of managers of associates who are taking advantage of these opportunities to flex their schedules to give them periods of time when they can take advantage of study groups or test review or whatever,” Stevens said. “When you look at value to the associate, that’s close to equivalent to the straight-dollar reimbursement of tuition costs.” 8
– Daniel Margolis, firstname.lastname@example.org