Partner Profile: How A Medium-Sized Business Expanded Access to Higher Education


Posted In: Case Studies, CFA News

May • 24 • 2017

Finding and keeping qualified talent is a challenge for any small business. Continuing education and tuition assistance programs can help boost retention, but they often fall outside the budget of small businesses.


Don Frericks, Chief Administrative Officer of Community Blood Center/Community Tissue Services, was struggling with that very challenge when he first became aware of College for America’s co-op program.  


Community Blood Center/Community Tissue Services is a nonprofit based in Dayton, Ohio. They aim to satisfy the need for blood, allograft tissue, and specialized laboratory services across the nation. With about 600 staff in seven states, Community Blood Center/Community Tissue Services faces complicated employee retention and growth challenges.


“It’s difficult for us to offer as many educational and career development opportunities as we would like,” Frericks says. “We have a CEO who’s very much interested in helping employees improve their potential in the future by developing and getting more degrees, and that’s been difficult for our employees because they’re working full-time.”


So Frericks was thrilled when he discovered the College for America co-op program that allows businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees to connect those employees with College for America’s mastery-based online degrees. Frericks first learned about College for America after seeing an article detailing the partnership between the college and Anthem.


“I thought, ‘Wow, if that’s the case for such a large company, then someone like us with only 600 employees could easily do that,’” Frericks says.


In December of 2015, Community Blood Center/Community Tissue Services entered a co-op agreement with College for America. Under the agreement that any staff member is eligible to pursue an associate’s or bachelor’s degree online and on their own time. The cost to the employee is just $3,000 per year, and Community Blood Center/Community Tissue Services provides a tuition reimbursement program that pays the full amount back to employees, bringing their actual cost to zero.


Three months later, Jerod Dabrowski, a senior coordinator working out of the Medford, Oregon, office, became one of the first Community Blood Center/Community Tissue Services employees to pursue a degree through College for America.


When Dabrowski was hired 11 years ago, a degree wasn’t required for the position. In the meantime, though, the executive director began encouraging him to go back to school. Dabrowski thought it was impossible. He had already investigated enrolling with another online university but says, “All said and done, they told me that I was going to come out owing $75,000, and I said absolutely not an option.”


College for America removed the financial barrier and offered Dabrowski a degree he could complete on his own time. He earned his bachelor’s degree thanks to College for America’s competency-based, project-driven approach to learning, which focuses on what a student can do instead of counting credit hours.


Dabrowski had additional motivation at home to work on a degree with a flexible schedule. “I started on the degree in March and we found out that we were having a baby,” he says. “So I wanted to get as much done as I possibly could before she arrived.”


Dabrowski says he got a lot of support from his family and guidance from his success advisor. Every College for America student is matched with an advisor who serves as a counselor and advisor, making sure they get the most out of their education.


Frericks does everything he can to make sure employees know about the program and its benefits. “Every time one of our employees receives a degree, that means they have better critical thinking skills,” says Frericks. “They have the ability to contribute more from a problem-solving standpoint. It means that hopefully their career growth has developed to a higher level and that the chances of them staying with us and developing a career are greater.”


He encourages other executives to become advocates for higher education and for tuition assistance programs within their companies. He says that enthusiastically promoting the project increases the likelihood that employees will voice their hidden doubts.


He says, “One thing I hear from my peers, as well as employees who have not signed up yet, is, ‘Are you kidding me? I can really get a degree for $3,000 a year and the company’s going to provide tuition reimbursement for all of that? Is this for real?’”


He reassures them that yes, this is real. And now he can point to Dabrowski as a symbol of how well the program works.


Want to see how you can offer affordable high education opportunities to your employees? See our partner overview.
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Emma Gallimore is a freelance writer with a degree in journalism from the University of Maine. She reports on trends affecting the education, business, health and technology sectors.