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Columbia College program renews educational opportunities for city employees

The outside of the City Hall in downtown Columbia

An educational agreement between Columbia College and the city of Columbia has been expanded to include not only city employees but their spouses, dependents younger than 25 and domestic partners.

Under the program, city employees and their families are entitled to a 15% tuition discount and other financial benefits toward any degrees or certificates at Columbia College.

Columbia City Council approved the agreement Dec. 4. Andrew Reeves, Columbia College area director, said that since December, 68 city employees and their family members are enrolled in classes now or pre-enrolled for next year.

The program was started in 2020 and set up to be renewed after three years. This time around, the program was approved for five years with an option to extend it for another year, according to a news release from the college.

Under the first agreement, the tuition discount was 10% and applied only to city employees. Heather Russell, assistant director of human resources for the city, said the higher discount has piqued more interest among employees and their families.

Russell said many of these employees are seeking professional growth and development.

“Part of the city’s strategic plan is organizational excellence,” she said. “Under that plan priority is professional growth and development. ... I think this program advances professional growth.”

Reeves said Columbia College staff want to be more directly involved with the city employee students and their families over the next five years.

“We’re very much almost like a concierge service to them and kind of work hand in hand in partnership with them,” he said.

Both Reeves and Columbia College Senior Recruitment Specialist Lisa Hussey host informational “Lunch and Learn” sessions with different city departments to explain how to get involved with the program and help employees jump-start the registration process.

Hussey said the sessions help people who have thought about returning to school but don’t know how to go about it.

“When we’re there, that makes me feel really good,” she said. “You can tell they calm down a little bit in their anxiety, (doing) something that they’ve always dreamed of doing. And we can help make it a reality and make it easy.”

A December news release from Columbia College outlined other benefits beyond the tuition discount:

  • Full-time students attending on-campus classes may qualify for merit scholarships. These cannot be combined with the tuition discount.
  • Financial aid staff will help identify additional scholarships, state and federal grants, financial aid and any company-based tuition assistance. These may be combined with the tuition discount.
  • The price per credit hour covers all expenses, so textbooks are provided and no additional fees are charged.
  • Free one-on-one coaching, advising, career mapping and tutoring are offered.

Russell said tuition reimbursement of up to $2,500 is available each fiscal year for eligible employees.

Reeves said this is “just the beginning” for new opportunities for city employees.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to continue this and even make it stronger,” he said.

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