Two weeks ago The Walt Disney Company announced a new educational benefit program called Disney Aspire that goes beyond what other recent benefit programs have offered. As described in a company blog [emphasis added]:
Disney Aspire is the most comprehensive program of its kind. To make participation easier for eligible employees, The Walt Disney Company will cover 100 percent of tuition upfront and will also reimburse application fees and required books and materials, removing the worry of paying to start or continue school. The program is designed for working adults and offers our Cast Members and employees maximum choice and flexibility with their studies, regardless of whether the program and classes they choose are tied to their current role at Disney. Disney Aspire includes a network of schools that offer a wide array of disciplines and diplomas—including college and master’s degrees, high school equivalency, English-language learning, vocational training and more.
This program is offered through Guild Education to 80,000 of Disney’s hourly employees in the US (after 90 days of employment), and the ‘regardless’ point is crucial – the options for degrees is not constrained to pre-selected majors or degrees that have to be tied to an employee’s current role.
Yesterday there were additional details announced by the University of Florida Online (UF Online) about programs that they are offering for Disney Aspire.
As part of this relationship, Disney employees may apply to one of several fully online bachelor’s degrees – the Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in business administration from the Warrington College of Business; the Bachelor of Science in sport management from the College of Health and Human Performance; and the Bachelor of Arts in public relations, and the Bachelor of Science in telecommunication from the College of Journalism and Communications. If granted admission by the University of Florida, Disney cast members could begin UF Online classes in January 2019 as part of the University’s spring semester. Once cast members sign up for the Disney Aspire educational benefit, a coach from Guild Education will contact them to determine their eligibility to receive educational benefits, review their academic background, and to provide qualified prospective students with a unique link to the UF Online admissions application.
One reason this announcement is interesting is the rapid growth of Guild Education, providing a derivative of Online Program Management (OPM) services. Guild describes itself as providing a platform that connects large-employer educational benefit programs with partner schools such as UF Online, Brandman University, Valencia College, etc. As we described in June when Walmart and Discover Financial announced their benefit programs:
I think these moves are more significant than just individual benefits. What we are seeing is UF Online, along with a handful of others, defining a different approach to marketing and finding potential online students, at least for undergraduate degrees. Historically, there is a common assumption that to enable a scalable online program there is a need for traditional digital marketing as the primary approach – Google AdWords, call centers, social media campaigns – with a partnership or two thrown in on the side. The origin of the OPM market is centered on providing these services in exchange for a percentage of tuition revenue, and for the majority of cases, the OPM’s spending on this marketing and enrollment management category is the most expensive service in the package. The Employer Pathways approach by UF Online has the potential to flip the student acquisition assumptions – primarily driven by employer partnerships with traditional digital marketing channels as a secondary approach.
Since the June post, Guild Education raised a round of $40 million for a total of $71.5 million since 2015. As EdSurge noted in its article, however:
One challenge is that few employees who are given education benefits options take advantage of them. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that while nearly 90 percent of mid- and large-size companies offer tuition reimbursement, less than 10 percent of employees at those companies take advantage of the benefits.
That figure is even lower at Guild’s partner companies, where only 3 to 5 percent of employees take advantage of the educational offerings, says Carlson. “We are optimistic that our companies want to go beyond that.”
Guild Education works on a tuition revenue share basis, although the details of these agreements are not public information yet. Charging tuition revenue sharing for up-front marketing and acquisition of students for online programs – sounds like a lot of overlap with the OPM market, but for a new or derivative model. This gets to Michael’s point most recently described in a post about Noodle Partners and their evolving model:
In my last two posts, I talked about OPMs being long-term partners in the ongoing management of online programs. I also argued that unbundling of services opens up a world of possibilities for solving different problems, and that we therefore need an umbrella product category called “Digital Enablement Solutions” with other (emerging) subcategories that could live along side Online Program Management.
Guild Education does not provide any of the program management services beyond admissions, as they do not help with program design, instructional design, student support, ed tech platforms or analytics. So it would be a mistake to lump them into the OPM category, but there are some interesting overlaps. We referenced this situation in our response to the SUNY Online Education Request for Information.
Financing models are proliferating in higher education, to the point of creating a great deal of market confusion, in part because one size does not fit all. Universities will likely have to evaluate a wide range of financial models and make sure that their approved portfolio of solutions providers includes a substantial subset of those models.
As for the educational partners, there is long-term potential but not yet sufficient demand for that flip in student acquisition assumptions. UF Online estimates that within the next two years they might reach 10% of students coming from their Employer Pathways. One motivation for this type of program, according to Associate Provost and Director of UF Online Evie Cummings, is that ideally the “coach from Guild” will be able to pre-screen applicants, since the cost of marketing to students who do not make it through the admissions process is quite expensive for selective institutions.
Beyond the online programs, starting in January there are likely to be face-to-face options as well, as described in the Orlando Sentinel.
Under the education program, Disney employees can take courses toward a high school diploma, a college degree or vocational skill.
A Disney spokeswoman said the online courses are the first rollout of the tuition program and employees would be eligible for in-person classes — at Valencia College as well as other schools — in the next phase beginning in January.
Count this news as further evidence of the broader market of Digital Enablement Solutions based on tapping into corporate HR and learning opportunities rather than traditional ad-based student recruitment methods.