Noodle Partners, a prominent online program manager, is teaming up with the parent company of two for-profit universities to create a platform for employers to administer tuition assistance benefits.
WorkforceEdge will allow employees to enroll in online undergraduate and graduate programs offered by participating colleges within Noodle Partners' network, as well as through Strategic Education's two for-profit universities, Capella and Strayer.
The move follows mounting interest from employers to use tuition benefits to retain workers and grow their talent pipelines, though it's unclear how the pandemic will impact those trends.
WorkforceEdge intends to make it easier for employers to offer tuition benefits to their workers and track their educational progress.
In turn, Noodle Partners' network of colleges stands to gain a new pipeline of students. "(If) you're a university running an online program, you normally have some recruitment expense," said John Katzman, Noodle's CEO and founder. "Through this channel, we are lowering the recruitment expense and giving the money back to the students."
Employers will be able to take advantage of discounted tuition prices, though the amount will vary by the program, officials said. WorkforceEdge will charge employees a flat fee for its services. Officials declined to disclose the amount.
Strategic Education, meanwhile, hopes the partnership will help it offer more choices to its corporate partners and help transition to receiving 100% of its tuition revenue from private sector employers over the next decade, according to company officials.
The new partnerships plan to first focus on drawing large companies to the platform before recruiting midmarket companies, said Terry McDonough, Strategic Education's president of alternative learning.
Employees using the platform will be able to enroll in short-term, undergraduate and graduate programs. Strategic Education also intends to offer courses from its Sophia online learning platform through WorkforceEdge, McDonough said.
It's unclear how the pandemic will affect tuition-benefit programs. Companies have long offered tuition benefits to employees, and they've increasingly been a perk to reduce turnover, teach their workers new skills and diversify their talent pipelines.
But some experts told Education Dive in May that the crisis could reduce workers' interest in tuition benefits or make them more likely to seek out shorter-term programs. Moreover, the share of employers offering tuition benefit programs decreased after the last recession, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management.
Employer-driven enrollment at Strategic Education's universities has held mostly steady year to year, despite some companies furloughing employees, McDonough said.
The two companies will launch a pilot of the platform this month with a midsized pharmacy firm, and it will be available to all of Strategic Education's roughly 750 corporate partners by the end of October. The company expects "many of our partners will adopt this platform" over time, McDonough said.
Guild Education, a tuition benefit platform that takes a portion of its university partners' tuition revenue, also recently grew its footprint.
Last October, Chipotle announced it was expanding its tuition benefit program to allow employees to choose from more than 75 undergraduate programs through Guild's platform. This followed news a few months earlier that Walmart was expanding its $1 a day degree program through the company.
In May, Guild also announced it was acquiring Entangled Group, an ed tech venture company. Rachel Carlson, Guild's CEO, told Forbes at the time that the move intends to help the company link workers who've been laid off from their jobs to education and career opportunities.
Correction: This article has been updated to remove the names of four universities that were listed as participants in WorkforceEdge due to an error in promotional communications provided to Education Dive.