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Employee Benefits: Free College Gaining Interest

Sandra Oshiro/HPR

The future of worker benefits just might include free college. It’s a concept that is getting some attention on the mainland, and it may have a future here in the islands. 

A survey this year by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 56% of employers in America already offer some form of tuition assistance for undergraduate or graduate degrees for employees. Employers nationwide now spend about $300 billion a year on continuing education of all kinds, ranging from informal training to tuition help.

Employers do this to compete with each other for the best talent, and also because they know that, according to a study by Georgetown University, about 60% of jobs require some post-secondary education. The employees aren’t the only ones benefitting, the businesses themselves net a higher quality workforce.

One Mainland example is aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, which essentially offers a full ride — tuition, fees and books — for qualifying employees seeking graduate degrees.

Here at home, Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa at Ko Olina provides free college tuition for employees participating in its Disney Aspire program.  This was launched companywide a year ago, with an initial five-year investment plan of $150 million and has so far sent 8,000 Disney employees to school for a range of degrees and certifications. Aulani General Manager Kimberly Agas says the degree doesn’t even need to pertain specifically to their jobs at Aulani, it’s more an investment in their future.

A. Kam Napier is the editor-in-chief of Pacific Business News.
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