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Making the Business Case for Investing in Employee Education

The United States is moving toward a “knowledge economy” meaning that by the year 2020, 55 million jobs will require some education beyond high school. This equates to about 65 percent of all available jobs in the nation.

Currently, 44 percent of all Michiganders have a postsecondary credential – a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree, or a high-value certificate. This lags behind the national average and is one of the factors preventing Michigan from filling high-skilled jobs.

The Chamber’s robust talent agenda
At the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Why Business Should Invest in Talent breakfast on Tuesday, Oct. 16, Detroit Drives Degrees Leadership Council Co-Chairman Richard Rassel discussed the Chamber’s regionwide talent agenda. View the full presentation here.

Rassel defined the Chamber’s talent agenda as comprising of four components:

  • Increasing access to post-secondary education. The Chamber does this by supporting the race to the FAFSA finish-line to ensure more students have financial resources to attend college, and administering the Detroit Promise scholarship for Detroit students.
  • Improving post-secondary success. This is achieved through the creation of a higher education compact. The compact establishes metrics and goals for improving post-secondary retention and graduation rates with a focus on underserved populations. The compact also provides success coaches to Detroit Promise community college students, to ensure they have the tools they need to succeed.
  • Promoting talent retention and attraction. was launched to promote the region and engage young talent by connecting them to local networks, peers and activities.
  • Upskilling the region’s adults with some post-secondary education but no credential. The Chamber works with higher-education intuitions to create pathways back to degree or credential completion and increased employer support.

Rassel provided two examples of individuals who pursued their higher education goals with the help of their employer.

Discover’s commitment to employee education
Following the videos, Jon Kaplan, corporate education, training and development leader for Discover Financial Services, and Danette Howard, senior vice president and chief strategy officer for the Lumina Foundation, discussed what Discover is doing to upskill its workforce through tuition reimbursement and how other businesses can learn from their success.

“Discover has had a tuition reimbursement program in place for years, but one of the key barriers preventing students from enrolling is that they had to pay the tuition cost upfront,” Kaplan said. “If you calculate an employee in the call center having to pay at least $3,500 a year with the intention of being reimbursed later…that is not a reasonable expectation for everyone.”

In June 2018, Discover rolled out a new tuition re-admission model to improve its incentive to employees. In this model, Discover pays universities directly to cover students’ tuition costs.

Kaplan noted a few takeaways that may be helpful for other employers looking to develop a similar programs:

  • Choose a set of programs for which employees may apply. Select programs that will help employees grow within the company.
  • Provide academic coaching for returning students who have been out of school.
  • Hire a third party to work with the universities who understand university processes and language.

“Currently, Discover has about 400 to 500 employees enrolled in our tuition rea-dmission program,” said Kaplan. “When you account for the significant reduction in turnover, absenteeism, and the costs saved when promoting individuals internally, we have seen a 144% return on investment.”

The perception that education ends after high school is long outdated. To close the talent gap and continue propelling Michigan’s economy forward, businesses need to start investing in their employees’ education.

How can businesses get involved in the Chamber’s talent agenda?
In January 2019, the Chamber will launch the “Bridging the Talent Gap” survey. This survey was designed to help Detroit Drives Degrees obtain a benchmark of employer performance in helping employees pursue higher education. All employers are encouraged to complete the survey, which takes about 30 minutes. All attendees at the Why Business Should Invest in Talent Lunch will receive a link to the survey in January.

Employers are also encouraged to share inspiring stories of adult students within their organization who overcame or are overcoming barriers to pursuing their educational goals. Do you have an inspiring story? Contact Melanie D’Evelyn at