Where the dollars are: the market for employer-paid continuing education - The Landscape

Once an afterthought, employer-paid continuing education is now an expanding market of growing importance to a wide variety of colleges and universities. With a remarkable range of employers offering tuition reimbursement for work-related education and training, the provision of these courses and programs has become a major source of discretionary revenue for American higher education.

Not all employers, however, are convinced that traditionally managed colleges and universities are either interested in or equipped to be suppliers of work-related education and training. In large numbers, employers continue to claim that higher education is unresponsive to the changing needs of businesses and out of touch with advances in practice in many fields.

Not surprisingly, as this sector of the market for continuing education has grown, so has the competition for employers' business. Today, employers seeking to improve the educational quality of their workforces can choose from among a variety of vendors and providers - including proprietary schools, industry associations, private consultants, and their own training departments. Each claims to offer equivalent or higher quality with the added benefit of flexibility through "just in time, just enough" programs. For higher education, the result of first neglecting and later misunderstanding the nature of this market is an accretion of missed opportunities.

This issue of The Landscape presents a basic - some might say remedial - analysis of the continuing education market using newly collected data drawn from the National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce's National Employer Survey (EQW-NES). It describes the market's basic contours: who is buying and for which employees, where opportunities for inroads can be found, and how higher education can better compete with other vendors for employers' continuing education dollars.


The EQW-NES has proved a rich source of information about the relationship between education and the workforce (The Landscape, May/June 1995 and March/April 1996). Originally administered in August and September of 1994 to over 4,000 private, for-profit employers, the survey's sampling frame represents establishments that employ approximately three-quarters of all workers. Corporate headquarters were excluded from the sample; and establishments in the manufacturing sector and those with more than 100 employees were over-sampled.

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