More schools will offer continuing education to federal employees at lower price

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Federal employees looking to earn an advanced or another degree at a lower price now have a few more options, the Office of Personnel Management said Friday.

OPM entered into new agreements with six colleges and universities through the Federal Academic Alliance.

Federal employees can earn a post-secondary or master’s degree with reduced tuition rates from the American University’s Key Executive Leadership Master’s Program in Public Administration, Bellevue University, Columbia College, Georgetown University Biomedical Graduate Education, University of Louisville and Michigan State University’s College of Business.

A total of 23 institutions are now part of the Federal Academic Alliance, a program that OPM began back in 2014 to give employees easier and cheaper access to educational opportunities.

These colleges and universities offer programs on acquisition, human resources, financial auditing, economics, IT, cybersecurity and other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, all of which are mission critical skills gaps in government.

“We will continue to work with colleges and universities to provide the federal workforce with opportunities to obtain the education they need to meet today’s federal workplace challenges, address critical skills gaps in mission critical occupations, increase federal employees’ access to high-quality, affordable educational resources and further develop and retain the federal workforce,” acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan said Friday in a statement.

All agreements offer reduced tuition for federal employees, and some offer scholarships. Some schools may extend those benefits to employees’ spouses or legal dependents, OPM said.

American University, for example, will waive the application fee and cut tuition by 25% for all federal employees participating in its public administration master’s degree program. Classes will be a mix of online and on-campus.

Columbia College will cut tuition by 15% for federal employees, their spouses and dependents under age 25, while the University of Louisville will offer a 15% discount to all federal employees for each semester’s worth of online courses.

OPM said thousands attended a virtual education and professional development symposium that it and its Federal Academic Alliance partners hosted last month. Federal employees had the chance to meet virtually with participating schools and attend webinars on their programs. The virtual “exhibition hall” will stay open through May 20, and employees can register to access recordings and other presentations from the event here.

Federal employees can find out more about the academic alliance and participating schools here.

As of 2016, OPM had identified skills gaps for six mission-critical occupations. Agencies have struggled to address longstanding challenges on the Government Accountability Office’s High Risk List, in part, due to skills gaps, GAO said earlier this year.

OPM reevaluating Trump federal hiring executive order

OPM is also giving agencies more time to meet the remaining requirements of a federal hiring executive order former President Donald Trump signed last summer.

The EO removed college degree requirements from federal positions unless they’re legally necessary, and it urged agencies to use skills-based assessments when evaluating the abilities of a job applicant.

Agencies initially had until the end of 2020 to develop a plan for embedding skills-based assessments into their hiring strategies.

OPM is evaluating its options for implementing the executive order, the agency said Friday.

In the meantime, OPM will host a session with agencies to explain its own implementation strategy for the remaining provisions of the 2020 EO. OPM will also offer assessments and other tools that agencies can use, and it will finalize a new General Schedule qualifications policy, which the previous administration had been developing.

The policy will allow candidates to qualify for certain federal jobs on the basis of their skills and competencies where there is no legal requirement to have a specific degree, OPM said. The Trump administration estimated 50 out of 400 federal occupations have an educational requirement needed to satisfy hiring laws.

Agencies now have until the end of this calendar year to develop their own assessment strategies.

“While many agencies already use skills and competency-based assessments, many agencies also have expressed concern about implementation of this EO,” McGettigan said in a memo to chief human capital officers.

Agencies have previously said they needed additional resources and expertise to truly embed skills-based assessments into their hiring strategies.

According to data from OPM, the General Services Administration and U.S. Digital Service, agencies used only self-assessments to evaluate 90% of job candidates in 2020.

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