Anthem Offers Free College as Newest Perk

The Benefits of Offering Employees a Free Education

Health insurer Anthem Inc. is the latest big employer to offer its workers a free college education.

Anthem employees can sign up for online degrees in business and health care at the College for America at Southern New Hampshire University. About 34,000 of the company’s 55,000 workers haven’t graduated from college.

Some employers are offering benefits and pay raises to retain workers and improve performance as the U.S. job market tightens. Starbucks Corp. pays for its workers to get degrees from Arizona State University online. Health insurer Aetna Inc. boosted wages for its lowest-paid workers and said it would cover more of their health-care costs.

“This was a huge opportunity for us to provide professional development,” said Jose Tomas, Anthem’s chief human resources officer. “We certainly will enjoy the benefits of providing this from a succession-planning standpoint.”

Anthem began a pilot program with College for America in 2013, and nine employees have earned associate’s degrees, said Gene Rodriguez, a company spokeswoman. Some of them are now pursuing bachelor’s degrees, she said.

Starrann Freitas is among them. She’s worked at Anthem’s HealthCore unit since 2011, starting as an administrative assistant. In May 2013, she started on an associate’s degree, studying 30 to 40 hours a week to finish in about eight months.

“I earned a promotion because of that,” she said by phone. “It was a total shock, because it wasn’t anything that I expected.”

Diploma in Hand

Freitas, who’s 52, is now a corporate communications specialist, working on an internal newsletter and website. She said she expects to finish her bachelor’s in communications in July.

“As I was going through the program, I was learning a lot of new skills that I was able to apply to my job,” she said. “It was so exciting to know that I was going to get a degree, to have a diploma in my hand.”

The College for America program costs $2,500 a year, and Anthem already offered a tuition reimbursement of as much as $5,000 annually for employees who have been at the company for at least 6 months and work at least 20 hours a week, according to Rodriguez

College for America doesn’t offer traditional classes. Instead, students progress through their education by completing projects at their own pace. The school offers associate’s degrees in general studies, with focuses on business or health care, and bachelor’s degrees in communications and health-care management.

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