In order to stay competitive in today's marketplace, large corporations are jumping at the chance to partner with ed-tech providers and colleges to offer education pathway programs for employees. Multinational corporations such as Chipotle and Wal-Mart are investing in these partnerships in order to attract and retain talent.1 But this begs the question as to what small businesses are capable of in terms of providing similar opportunities. Certain niche providers are starting to pop up to cater to this sector, in order to reach working learners who happen to work at the local, family-owned coffee shop instead of a Starbucks.

Why Small Businesses Matter

Today, there are 28 million small businesses in the United States. The Small Business Administration defines a small business as an enterprise having fewer than 500 employees. So why do small businesses matter in the case of employee benefits and access to education? Surprisingly, since the 1970s, small businesses have provided 55% of all jobs and 66% of all net new jobs.2 This means that over 50% of the working population (120 million individuals) are employees of small businesses!3

It is  important that small businesses invest in their employees in a similar way as their corporate counterparts. A great way to do this is through offering heavily discounted or subsidized degree programs for employees. This helps businesses to attract, retain, and grow talent internally. Unfortunately, smaller businesses oftentimes do not have the funds or resources to partner with large, big-name education providers, leaving half of the workforce in the dark. Luckily, there are now organizations starting to offer affordable solutions.

Education Providers for Small Businesses

College of America at Southern New Hampshire University is offering a co-op for small businesses to join to gain access to educational programs. This co-op allows small businesses, nonprofits, and government offices with fewer than 1,000 employees to join the co-op for free, and offers deeply discounted degree programs for employees.

Small businesses that partner with College of America will frequently offer tuition reimbursement programs for employees to incentivize retention. Employees can work their way to earn their accredited associate or bachelor's degrees online through College of America, while also being able to maintain steady employment.

Hopefully, more colleges and universities will step up to offer this sort of program in order to help out local businesses and communities. Though the need for access to postsecondary education is great, 24 million adults over the age of 25 still do not even have their high school diploma. What's more: 16.8% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 in 2014 had not earned their high school diploma.4

With 50% of the workforce working in small businesses, it would seem critical for businesses of all sizes to also offer access to high school diploma program pathways for employees in order to invest in tomorrow's workforce.

Learn about Penn Foster's solutions for employers

Resources: Photo Credit. (1) Investing in Your Entry-Level Workers through Upskilling (2) Small Business Trends (3) Small Business Statistics (4) What's Missing from the College Completion Agenda that Could Benefit America's Economy - A Path to Get There