With online learning for feds, OPM sees narrowed skills gap

Following up on the success of its first continuing education program, the Office of Personnel Management on Monday announced its partnership with Champlain Col...

By Jory Heckman
Federal News Radio

Federal employees and their families can now add online college to the list of benefits offered by the government.

Following up on the success of its first continuing education program, the Office of Personnel Management on Monday announced its partnership with Champlain College, a 137-year-old private college based in Burlington, Vermont. Federal workers and their spouses will be able to enroll in degree or certificate programs before the start of the summer 2015 semester. The admission deadline is June 5.

In a conference call to the press, Sydney Smith-Heimbrock, OPM’s strategic workforce planning and chief learning officer said the program focuses on providing continuing education to mid-career federal workers at a discounted rate.

“We know the current state of higher education is constantly in the news. We know the role of [student] debt is huge and we know the sacrifices of the employees who are federal employees make,” said Jayson Boyers, vice president of Champlain College and managing director of the division of continuing and professional studies.

OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said the results of the agency’s first partnership with University of Maryland University College were encouraging. A year after launching, more than 1,200 federal employees enrolled in UMUC programs, including nearly 100 spouses and dependents. Students from that pool of government employees logged on from 42 states and more than 100 federal agencies.

“We know that continuing education is really critical for any professional who wants to set objective goals and engage in lifelong learning,” Smith-Heimbrock said. Through the program, OPM hopes to close “skills gaps” across the federal workforce in mission-critical fields, like cybersecurity.

“Through Champlain, we see an opportunity for federal employees to enhance their skills, perhaps for employees to move into cybersecurity as a specialization, where they might want to pursue a different career,” Smith-Heimbrock said

Students enrolling in the program go through a tier-based subscription model, where students pay monthly to access a catalog of online classes. Students paying into a higher tier subscription can access more courses. Boyers said federal workers can earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree for about $12,000 to $13,000. Academic certificate programs can be completed within a year for about $3,000.

“This not only allows them to move forward in gaining new skills to help in their role and their mission and their career, it allows them to do it with the opportunity to not go into debt. We know that the adult workforce, they have families, they have obligations, they have mortgages, they have children who are getting to be college age as well.

“As a leader in educational programming, ranging from cybersecurity and digital forensics, to accounting and health care administration, Champlain College is well positioned to provide high-quality and affordable adult online educational opportunities to federal employees and their families,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). “Pairing Vermont’s own Champlain College with the Office of Personnel Management creates a direct path to prepare our federal workforce for the challenges we face today, and the challenges we will face tomorrow. This partnership is both a step forward in helping families to advance their own educational opportunities, and in addressing the nation’s security.”


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