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Think outside the gym

When it comes to workplace wellness, we tend to think of things such as on-site gyms, healthy cafeteria menus and walking trails. All of those are great and can promote good health. However, there’s more to wellness than just physical health – namely, happiness and a feeling of purpose. To address these needs, employers are finding non-health benefits are equally important and can quickly pay big dividends in terms of engagement and productivity. A great example of this is education.

On the one hand, business publications continue to report on skill gaps, as well as the need to train and “upskill” existing employees. On the other hand, rising tuition rates and personal debt hold many individuals back from advancing their education. It’s an all too common impasse.

We’ve witnessed this at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield (Anthem).  For years, we’ve had a tuition reimbursement program. However, since the benefit is limited to $5,000 per employee per year, often those who could benefit most – such as those without a college degree – found the cost of going back to school was still too high.

That’s why in January 2013, our affiliated health plan in New Hampshire and College for America launched a pilot program that gave associates the opportunity to pursue an associate degree without the need to take on any debt.

College for America is a fully accredited, non-profit online institution established by Southern New Hampshire University offering convenient online curriculum tailored for working adults.

Partnering with employers, College for America allows its students to earn associates or bachelor’s degrees for just $3,000 per year, with a focus on real-world projects and business competencies versus traditional college classes. The self-paced and self-scheduled program allows enrollees to complete their degree at an accelerated pace, quickly opening doors to new, broader roles and responsibilities within their organizations.

The New Hampshire pilot was a hit and our parent company expanded the program to our more than 50,000 associates nationwide in June 2015. That means that with College for America, a debt-free degree is not just a saying, it’s a reality.

Today, more than 1,600 Anthem associates are enrolled in the program and 92 have earned degrees. In Wisconsin, we’re proud to have 31 enrolled and four graduates.

College for America has also expanded its degree plan offerings to include a Bachelor of Arts degree in Management in three concentrations – Insurance Services, Logistics and Operations, and Public Administration. As you might guess, these focus areas are aligned with Anthem’s business, meaning we (the employer) start to see new skills and ideas brought back to the workplace well before a degree is mounted on the wall.

College for America works for Anthem, but that doesn’t mean this is the only route available. Businesses looking to offer expanded education and career development opportunities would be wise to talk with the leaders at Wisconsin’s outstanding technical colleges and university system. Building partnerships with education institutions and collaborating with other businesses in your area can be a great way to create employee benefits that no one company may be able to build on its own.

For more ideas about how to combine your culture and benefits, check out this article on Anthem’s blog for small and large employers: .

To learn more about College for America, visit

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Nobile is a 20-year veteran of the insurance industry whose experience includes time with Rush Prudential Health Plans, Aetna, and United Healthcare. Prior to joining Anthem, Nobile served as the Director of Sales and Account Management for the Midwest region at UniCare, a health benefits company based in Chicago and owned by Anthem’s parent company and also ran UniCare’s Eastern Region with offices.

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