Health Insurer Anthem Offering Employees Free College

What do Fiat Chrysler, Starbucks and health insurer Anthem have in common? As of today, they each offer to foot the bill for their employees to attend college.

Bloomberg reports that Indiana-based Anthem – which suffered a major data breach earlier this year – is the latest company to offer employees the opportunity to earn their associate’s or bachelor’s degree without incurring a massive amount of student loan debt.

Under the new program, eligible full- and part-time Anthem employees can sign up for online classes in business and health care at the College for America at Southern New Hampshire University.

While the new students must front the costs for the courses, Anthem will reimburse their expenses.

Anthem’s 55,000 employees can take part in the new tuition program if they work 20 or more hours per week and have been employed by the company for at least six months.

The national insurer actually began the program as a pilot in 2013. Since then nine employees have earned associate’s degrees, with many moving on to pursue a bachelor’s degree, a company spokesperson says.

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

According to Bloomberg, the College for America programs covered by Anthem cost about $2,500 a year. Unlike traditional higher education institutions, College for America students progress through their education by completing projects at their own pace.

One employee who earned her associate’s degree under Anthem’s pilot program tells Bloomberg that she was able to complete the program 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. It was so exciting to know that I was going to get a degree, to have a diploma in my hand.”

Anthem’s program announcement comes just a month after Fiat Chrysler’s U.S. division unveiled the Degrees@Work program – a partnership with Strayer University – aimed at educating employees and improving retention for the company’s dealerships.

Starbucks got the employee-college program ball rolling back in 2014 when it announced it would finance workers’ dreams of attending college around the country by offering to pay their tuition at Arizona State University.

Anthem Offers Free College as Newest Perk [Bloomberg]