Making Education Affordable: JetBlue Scholars Program

Key Takeaways

  • Corporate investment in employee degree completion provides a competitive education benefit and can be used as a tool to recruit motivated, dedicated employees.
  • Saylor Academy’s college-credit recommended OER provides a solid foundation for many types of learning, including corporate-sponsored degree completion & tuition-assistance initiatives.
  • Alternative credit initiatives can help adult learners efficiently earn credit and advance toward a degree at a significantly lower cost.

Introduction

JetBlue’s foray into degree completion can serve as a model for other companies who want to offer an affordable degree completion benefit.  They proactively expanded the vision of an education assistance program,  investing in designing courses for employees based upon Saylor Academy OER.  JetBlue has aligned with partners ensuring that their employees would have low-cost pathways to achieve a degree, versus solely expanding training for business purposes. Cody Cleverly, Manager of Academic Programs at JetBlue, joins Saylor Academy to discuss why a company’s investment in their employees’ goals, such as degree completion, makes good business sense internally as well as from a corporate responsibility perspective.

Jacqueline Arnold: Why was the JetBlue Scholars Program developed, and how does it work?

JetBlue created a program that would enable crewmembers to get college credit for the knowledge they already have. Our aircraft mechanics are eligible for more than 60 credits towards their degree and most of them didn’t even know it!

Cody Cleverly: We created JetBlue Scholars to empower crewmembers (employees) to complete their college degree. Our goal was to remove the barriers that prevent busy working people from achieving their academic goals, such as limited finances, scheduling challenges, and family obligations. JetBlue Scholars goes beyond standard tuition reimbursement to provide a clearer path to degree completion.

JetBlue created a program that would enable crewmembers to get college credit for the knowledge they already have. Many of our crewmembers have attained college-level knowledge throughout their career, and we wanted to translate that knowledge into a degree. Our aircraft mechanics are eligible for more than 60 credits towards their degree for FAA certifications they already possess, and most of them didn’t even know it!

The program converts aviation and military training and other professional certificates and coursework into college credit to reduce the time and cost of completing a degree.

Here’s how it works:

  • Crewmembers must have two years of service at JetBlue, and 15 prior college credits, or a willingness to earn their initial 15 credits with minimal guidance
  • Upon enrollment, crewmembers receive some credit for the knowledge they already have. This includes previous college courses, licenses and certifications, and even professional experience.
  • JetBlue enrolls crewmembers in ACE-recommended online courses at no cost to the them
  • Crewmembers complete their final semester online at Thomas Edison State University (TESU) for less than $3,500 out of pocket

JA: What kind of learners are in the JetBlue Scholars program?

Cody Cleverly: 75% of enrollees are in front-line roles such as gate agents and reservation agents who see a college degree as an opportunity to advance their careers. There are also many pilots, flight attendants, and aircraft mechanics who are taking the opportunity to earn a degree for the first time. These crewmembers represent the 31 million Americans with some college and no degree, who have been unable to achieve their academic goals due to the barriers present in the traditional U.S. higher education system. JetBlue Scholars is open to crewmembers of all backgrounds and ages, with an average age of 39 years old.

JA: Why degree completion versus expanding a training program?

Cody Cleverly: We chose to provide a college education benefit because crewmembers asked for it. Our annual engagement survey includes an open-ended question which asks crewmembers for feedback on what JetBlue can do better. In response to that question, we received countless requests for an education benefit. We created JetBlue Scholars because we knew it would have a meaningful impact on our business, and more importantly, because it would improve the lives of our crewmembers.

JA: What was compelling about using Saylor Academy OER?

We found the Saylor Academy courses, and the ACE recommendation showed us that the content was academically sound.

Cody Cleverly: We license most of our course content from online course providers, but we had a need to create some of our own courses. Since we don’t have much experience in college credit, it makes sense to find good partners who are already in the college credit business and leverage their expertise. If we were going to create our own courses, we needed a solid foundation to start from.

We found the Saylor Academy courses, and the ACE recommendation showed us that the content was academically sound.

We use openly-licensed Saylor Academy content to serve as the foundation for our courses, which gives our team of subject matter experts and instructional designers a solid starting point for creating highly engaging online courses.

JA: Why is an investment in degree completion good for business?

Cody Cleverly: As the skill gap among front-line workers widens in the U.S., it’s getting more difficult for employers to attract new recruits. Employers across industries are competing for the same pool of entry-level talent, and we have to increasingly position ourselves as a desirable place to work. JetBlue Scholars enables us to hire highly motivated job seekers who are looking to earn a degree and gain valuable job experience at the same time.

JA: What are your metrics for success for the JetBlue Scholars program?

Cody Cleverly: Demand for enrollment is a key indicator of success, and we’re growing so quickly that we have had to create a sizable wait list. Since the ultimate outcome is a college degree, we have to keep our eye on course pass rates and graduation rates. We have a 90% pass rate in our courses, owed largely to our staff of success coaches who keep the scholars motivated and engaged in their courses. Over 50 crewmembers have graduated since the inception of the program less than 18 months ago. Not only are people graduating, but they’re having a great experience along the way, with 90% touting that they would recommend the program to a fellow crewmember.

JA: What advice would you give other employers looking to partner with education institutions toward employee degree completion?

Cody Cleverly: JetBlue Scholars has been so successful because it perfectly aligns with JetBlue’s mission of Inspiring Humanity. If we inspire our crewmembers, they will inspire our customers, and it just continues to pay itself forward. Our mission of Inspiring Humanity is the foundation of everything we do, so we’ve made it a point to align with partners who share our values.

I encourage other companies to “look within yourself as an organization to identify what is truly important to you, and align your employee development opportunities with your sincere business objectives.”


Bio

Cody Cleverly, Manager of Academic Programs at JetBlue® Airways

Cody Cleverly is the Manager of Academic Programs at JetBlue, overseeing coaching, instructional design, systems, partnerships and measurement of academic initiatives. Mr. Cleverly assembled the founding team of JetBlue innovative educational assistance program, JetBlue Scholars, which enables the airline’s crew members to earn a college degree.

Prior to JetBlue, Cody spent time building employee learning and development programs at Utah State University, where he also earned master’s degrees in Business and Human Resources.

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