InStride is a major player in the booming
employer education benefit space, joining other intermediaries that help administer these programs, including Guild Education and EdAssist by Bright Horizons.
The public benefit company was founded
three years ago as a collaboration between the Rise Fund and Arizona State University, which made waves
in 2014 with its exclusive education benefit partnership with Starbucks. InStride now manages that program
, which has changed
somewhat over the years.
More than 40 companies work with InStride
on their tuition benefit programs. The platform has fewer university partners than its competitors and touts the academic quality of the seven universities that offer online degree programs to workers
through their employer plans. In addition to ASU, InStride’s partners include
the City University of New York’s School of Professional Studies, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and universities based in Mexico and Australia.
Demand for more education and training from companies has remained strong throughout the pandemic, says Jonathan Lau
, InStride’s cofounder and chief operating officer.
Learners need to acquire new skills and often lack access to affordable education, he says. At the same time, corporations need to find new ways to attract and retain workers. This is what Lau calls a “double bottom-line solution,” one that helps employers with both their business and social impact needs as they seek to create workforces of the future.
Yet uncertainty in labor markets is affecting the approach of both corporations and students with education benefits, Lau says:
“For learners, we continue to hear about mental wellness and higher worker stress. Fewer people in the workforce due to attrition or illness have created more work for those employees still in the workforce, which can make it more challenging to consider the additional responsibility of pursuing something new.”
, InStride’s CEO, wrote about workforce education in his recent book
. He cited the importance of time as a factor as workers mull whether they can use a tuition benefit.
To help make sure employees have time to earn credentials, Lau says InStride works with its corporate partners to:
- Ensure executive support so managers can be supportive and flexible with employees who enroll.
- Offer training to managers.
- Provide updates to HR and managers about learner participation.
- Offer a wide range of learning options.
- Make part-time employees eligible for benefit programs.
Typically, a small share of employees tap their tuition benefits—estimates hover around 2 percent
. But larger uptake rates are possible, Lau says, with participation approaching 20 percent of employees in some cases.
This is most likely when employers align their programs to strategic business objectives.
“Everyone at the company should have the ability to pursue education,” Lau says. “Our goal should be to keep moving those numbers higher if there’s a strategic company need.”
Company partners in manufacturing and healthcare tend to value industry-specific certifications with their tuition benefit programs, he says, sometimes even more than a traditional degree. And InStride works with companies to identify core areas of skill development so students can work toward degrees, certifications, and credentials that are the most beneficial to them.
“That said, we believe firmly in the transformative power of a degree,” Lau says.
College Learning, on the Job:
A couple weeks ago, I asked for examples
of companies that make time for their employees to work toward a college degree. Abigail Smith
, a partner at Bain & Company, cited the apprenticeship program
from Aon, a multinational professional services firm.
two-year program offers apprentices the chance to earn a tuition-free associate degree. They are paid as full-time employees but spend a portion of each workweek in college classes.
Likewise, Smith pointed to apprenticeships at SEH America, which produces silicon wafers used in semiconductors. A Bain paper
described how the shifts of apprentices at an SEH manufacturing facility in Washington State are scheduled around the sponsored college courses they are taking.
“When we say ‘apprenticeship,’ people don’t generally think ‘college-level learning,’” Smith says. “But that is what apprenticeship, at its best, involves—work experience and college-level learning.”