With three kids and a full-time job, Emily Young has a lot to manage while completing her bachelor’s degree.

Young is among a group of city of Columbia employees taking advantage of a partnership announced in mid-August between the city and Columbia College in which workers get discounted tuition. Students have the option to attend evening or online classes at a 10% discount. They aren’t charged for books or other fees.

“Recruiting and retaining a trained and well-educated workforce is critical for the city of Columbia,” Mayor Brian Treece said in a news release. “Thanks to this new partnership, city employees will have the opportunity to continue their education, improve their skills and deliver better service to taxpayers.”

City Manager John Glascock also said in the release that the agreement with Columbia College will complement the city’s existing tuition reimbursement program.

Young, an administrative support assistant for the Water and Light utilities, has worked for the city for the past seven years. She started to pursue her bachelor’s degree several years ago but put it on hold when her daughter was born.

When she found out about the city’s reimbursement program, she decided to finish her degree. The discount at Columbia College made it easier.

Columbia College has many partnerships similar to this one, Brian McCarthy, the director of recruiting and enrollment, said. “We have a very broad view of how people can be students at Columbia College.”

One of Columbia College’s partnerships is with the state of Missouri and its employees.

“We don’t have a lot of data in terms of this local program because it’s so new,” McCarthy said, “but statewide the most popular areas of study with the online courses are business, cyber security and criminal justice.”

Young is pursuing a double major in business administration and health care management with a minor in human resources.

“I’ve always had an interest in the health care field,” Young said. She started as an emergency medical technician, moved to nursing and then worked as a pharmacy technician before moving to Columbia, where she realized she could earn more money working for the city.

Young said that part of her motivation for pursuing her bachelor’s degrees is that it will open up new opportunities to work with the city.

“There are many jobs where they won’t consider you without a bachelor’s,” Young said. She hopes to work in the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services or advance within Water and Light.

“I like the diversity the city has. We have anything that any major could want to do. Even after I get my degree I will be with our organization,” Young said.

Naia Owens, a senior executive assistant at Regional Economic Development, Inc., is pursuing a master’s degree in human resources. She has wanted to pursue the graduate degree for a while, but affordability was an obstacle.

“For five years there I was putting my son through school, so I couldn’t afford two tuitions. I put my goals on hold for his,” Owens said.

In 2019, workers with a bachelor’s degree had median weekly earnings of $1,248, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers with only a high school diploma had a medium weekly income of $887. Median weekly earnings increased with the level of degree, the highest being professional or graduate degrees.

The flexibility and affordability of the new program was a big motivator to go back to school. Owens is taking both online and evening courses, Owens said.

Although Columbia College offers both evening and online courses, Young only takes courses online. It fits her lifestyle, including her husband’s hobby of racing cars.

“I’m able to do them anywhere,” she said. “There has been more than one occasion where I have been sitting on a tailgate between races on a racetrack doing homework. I have been taken it to baseball games before. It’s easier to fit that into my work and life balance. And now with COVID, it’s a lot safer.”

  • Public Life Reporter, Fall 2020 Studying investigative journalism Reach me at ym9bn@mail.umsystem.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700

Recommended for you