10/16/2012 06:09 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2012

Help From the Boss: The Role of Business in the Degree Completion Agenda

As President of Excelsior College, it should come as no surprise that I am an unabashed advocate for degree completion - and have written as much on the subject in this space.

Therefore it should be equally as unsurprising that I view higher education to be a key to reversing the slide in our standard of living which has seen median household income fall by more than 7 percent since 2000. However while increasing the number of college-educated, skilled workers in this country doesn't fall to just a single or even handful of agencies or colleges, there is one institution in particular - American businesses - that is uniquely positioned to help.

Many of America's employers provide tuition assistance to their employees. In so doing, they contribute to the education of our nation's workforce and help maintain a competitive economy. However, there is more that they can be doing, while saving money at the same time.

Both the American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service and the National College Credit Recommendation Service evaluate employer and industry training programs for potential college credit equivalency. For those employees who have satisfactorily completed the assessed training, the credit earned can be transcripted and applied toward college degree requirements. This saves the employee-student and the employer the cost of tuition to demonstrate the same learning that would otherwise have been paid elsewhere. Over time, such an evaluation can save an employer thousands in tuition assistance dollars and considerably reduce a student's time to degree completion.

Another cost-efficient use of employer education assistance is the use of credit-by-examination (or assessment) programs of The College Board, Educational Testing Service and Excelsior College. Employees who have learning interests or academic credit needs that fall outside of an evaluated employer training program can take advantage of free online courses to prepare for a specific subject assessment. For instance, someone who is really interested in history can either take an exam or a free self-directed course, followed by an exam, to satisfy a degree requirement. All three organizations have low cost assessments that can satisfy the general education requirements of a bachelor's degree.

Adult workers who have acquired knowledge through experience for which there is no existing examination can have this prior learning evaluated through a process of portfolio assessment. The Council on Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) is the nation's recognized leader in this field.

Through a combination of evaluated employer-provided training (including that from the military), subject specific assessments, the transfer of any prior college credit, and portfolio assessment, the road to a degree can be greatly shortened and the cost of tuition to complete the degree can be greatly reduced. In fact, a recent study by CAEL has found that there is another benefit to recognizing prior learning. Those adults who receive such credit have been found to be 2.5 times more likely to succeed in their pursuit of a degree than someone who has not.

Tuition assistance, evaluated training programs and individual assessment options can add up to a quicker, less expensive way to a degree. As a result, employers gain the loyalty and support of a better educated employee. The employee gains the knowledge and confidence necessary to career advancement and America adds enhanced capability to its competitive workforce.