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Master's plan: Centenary brings classes to workplace

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Samantha Cole, an executive assistant with Verizon Wireless, is working toward her MBA at Centenary College.
Samantha Cole, an executive assistant with Verizon Wireless, is working toward her MBA at Centenary College. - ()

After years of facing the difficult issue of downsizing, many employers now are facing an entirely different issue: retention.

Believe it or not, workers are now leaving or quitting their jobs at a higher rate than at any time since 2008. So what's the best way to keep them from looking for something better?

Bring the better to them.

Centenary College is helping companies do just that through its School of Professional Studies (SPS). Since 2007, the school has offered a program that brings its classes — and its instructors — to the workplace, enabling employees to earn advanced degrees without ever leaving their office.

Michael Graziano, the SPS director of enrollment, said the Hackettstown-based college specifically targets corporate partners for SPS, which started in 1999 as the Center for Adult Professional Studies before being rebranded in 2012.

“What we'll do is have recruiting efforts on site, at the location, and the idea is to build a group of people right in their office,” he said. “They have the convenience of walking from their office right to the classroom.”

Here's how it works:

  • The SPS program offers two master's degrees (in business management and health management).
  • If a company has at least 15 interested employees and a place to teach, Centenary will send an instructor to the location.
  • Each class usually lasts 3 to 4 hours and is usually once a week for eight weeks.
  • The master's program usually takes two years to complete.
  • Tuition is about $23,000, but there are corporate discounts of up to 15 percent.

The program is working. Last May, 86 people earned degrees, the most since the program began in 2007.

Centenary currently works with seven companies, making up 35 percent of the 700 SPS students.

Details and employee cost vary with each partnership, but some — including Verizon Wireless — have provided its employees with complete tuition reimbursement.

In doing so, Verizon also was able to retain at least one employee who had been looking elsewhere.

Samantha Cole was shopping her education degree for a teaching job before — and after — she was hired by Verizon in 2007. Her search continued until 2011, when she realized the opportunity was right in front of her and she began working toward a master's in business management by utilizing her company's relationship with Centenary.

“I saw a lot of opportunity for growth and realized I'd rather try and see what the business world was like,” said Cole, who works in Warren. “And it turns out I really enjoyed it.”

Centenary's flexibility allowed Cole to work at her own pace.

Flexibility is what SPS is all about.

Because the program doesn't operate on a regular semester schedule, Centenary begins classes every eight weeks and fits two sessions within one typical semester. As a result, the college operates without enrollment deadlines year-round, which provides a level of freedom for students and their schedules.

Carol Fitzpatrick, who has worked in human resources at UPS for 25 years, champions the program for the incentives it creates for employees.

“We only promote from within,” said Fitzpatrick, who works at the UPS location in Parsippany. “And right now, we're not promoting anyone unless they're in school or they have a degree.”

The program is all about tailoring the offerings to fit individual needs of both the company and the employees.

For instance, UPS's facilities don't allow for in-office classes, so their employees study at the closest of three Centenary locations in Hackettstown, Parsippany and Metropark, as well as online.

E-mail to: andrews@njbiz.com

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