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Enhanced Education

posted 5/22/2008

How to help employees select graduate schools

Smart Business St. Louis

February 2008

Interviewed by Troy Sympson

It's long been common knowledge that employees need college degrees to succeed in today's fast-paced business world. Only now more than ever, that's not quite enough. More and more positions are requiring knowledge and skills that can only be obtained from a graduate degree.

Having your employees enroll in graduate school is a great way to ensure that your team has the education it needs to make your business succeed, according to Linda D. Maurer, the dean of the business school at Fontbonne University.

"The first step is that employers provide encouragement for an employee to continue his or her education," says Maurer. "That encouragement can be tuition reimbursement, flexibility in work schedules and/or recognition of the accomplishment, both financially and in advancement. As we know, the world is getting increasingly complex, so organizations need to create a culture of learning, making it abundantly clear that education is vitally important to the company's growth and development."

Smart Business spoke with Maurer about graduate programs, how to choose one and how an employee with a graduate degree can be a valuable asset.

How could an employee who holds an advanced degree benefit a company?

The employee is able to bring to the workplace the most current knowledge on the newest trends and issues that will impact the organization. The employee develops an awareness of how these trends and issues may challenge how the organization is currently doing business. This knowledge can provide that critical advantage of anticipating issues and being prepared for them. It can also create a competitive advantage for the organization that understands what's behind the current trends and issues and responds to the deeper issues. Employees always seem eager to share what they are learning in the classroom with their colleagues at work. Therefore, these employees bring synergy to the workplace - everyone is looking at his or her role differently. Beyond the actual knowledge the student acquires, he or she gains much more, such as the ability to 'learn how to learn.' Graduate students know how to use their skills to gain valuable industry information, and they possess the confidence to utilize that information.

What should a company look for in a graduate program?

A company should look for a program that will allow the employee to 'stretch', both in the knowledge he or she obtains and in the understanding of the dynamics of the knowledge. The dynamics are the implications of what students have learned and how that impacts all parts of the organization. The decisions employees make are not in a vacuum but have implications for all parts of the organization. The employee will also benefit from a program that has a low instructor/student ratio so that he or she can receive personalized attention. A small class will allow the employee to develop relationships with classmates and the instructor, encouraging everyone to share his or her personal experiences, allowing the employee to examine issues from several perspectives.

I believe there is also value in programs that have a focus on the adult student. These programs provide very practical knowledge that the student can implement in the workplace the next day. These types of adult professional programs also recognize that the student has academic, professional and personal commitments. Each commitment is important and must be met. Often, small things that make the student's experience more convenient can be a great stress reliever - such as the ability to plan his or her complete schedule so he or she doesn't get sidetracked. These programs should also provide flexibility if professional or personal commitments demand that the employee take a break.

Can programs be specialized to meet a company's specific needs?

There is a trend that educational institutions develop partnerships with organizations to meet the organizations' specific needs. The partnerships allow the two organizations to meet each other's needs. Sometimes that can mean the development of a specialized program, a concentration, a set of courses bundled together to meet specific objectives or just modifications of format, such as having a break in classes geared for tax professionals during the tax season.

What factors need to be considered when a company is choosing a graduate program?

Recognize that employees have varied learning styles, so different programs will appeal to different people - it is not a one size fit all. Ensure that the institution is regionally accredited, and that the specific programs are accredited or in the process of accreditation. Make sure the academic institution has the programs that will meet your long-term objectives. Finally, find out what graduates of the institution have to say about their experiences and whether or not the institution has experience developing and maintaining these partnerships.

How does a degree benefit the employee?

An advance degree benefits the employee in several ways. He or she will obtain the latest knowledge in the field, gain greater personal development and fulfillment, show the organization that he or she possesses the personal and professional discipline to accomplish a difficult goal, gain confidence and engagement in his or her field, and has the opportunity for advancement.

Linda D. Maurer is the business school dean at Fontbonne University. Reach her at (314) 889-1423 or lmaurer@fontbonne.edu.

With permission, copyright (2008), Smart Business St. Louis Magazine