- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The federal government is working with Vermont’s Champlain College to provide online educational and training opportunities to millions of federal civilian employees and their dependents at up to 70 percent off the regular cost, officials said Monday.

The partnership between the federal Office of Personnel Management and the Burlington-based Champlain is the second such agreement between the U.S. government and a school that offers online education and training to help ensure the federal workforce is well trained, said Sydney Smith-Heimbrock, OPM deputy associate director for strategic workforce planning.

Federal civilian employees and their dependents will be offered access to the discounted online courses offered through Champlain College’s truEd program. Champlain is now working with 57 public and private organizations to offer courses in 60 certificate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.

The federal government is particularly interested in Champlain’s programs in cyber security, digital forensics and health care administration, Smith-Heimbrock said, as well as the broad range of education and training made up of the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines.

“We know that continuing education is really critical for any professional who wants to set attainable goals and also to engage in lifelong learning,” Smith-Heimbrock said. “So through the Champlain alliance, we see OPM really driving a culture of learning across the federal government.”

Champlain has a traditional campus and student body of about 2,000. Its online truEd program works with public and private employers to provide employees with career-relevant educational programming.

OPM is now Champlain’s largest online partner, said Champlain Vice President Jayson Boyers, who is the school’s managing director of the Division of Continuing and Professional Studies.

“The nuance here is this isn’t just the college reaching out and saying ‘We’ll give you a discount to your employees.’ It’s really saying we’re going to partner with the organization we know we can serve the best,” Boyers said.

With the discount, federal employees and their dependents would be able to earn degrees for about $12,000 to $13,000 for a bachelor’s or master’s degree. They can get an academic certificate in about a year for about $3,000.

“This not only allows them to move forward in gaining new skills - to help in their role, in their mission, in their career - it allows them to do it with the opportunity to not go into debt,” Boyers said.

Smith-Heimbrock called OPM’s first educational partnership with the University of Maryland University College, which just celebrated its first year, “phenomenally successful.” She said about 1,200 federal employees and their dependents took advantage of the program and saved about $750,000 collectively in tuition.

UMUC spokesman Bob Ludwig said interest in the program is strong, with more than 30,000 visits to the school’s website looking for information, particularly in areas such as cybersecurity, biotechnology, health care, public safety and business.

“We are in the process of creating a self-service tool for employees to determine the program that is right for them,” he said.

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