As I neared the end of college in Wisconsin, I intended to attend law school but my father was completely against it. Despite the excellent legal boards, I had another problem called “being a woman”, which is also hard to overcome. Add to that at the end of my junior year, my father also insisted that I get a teaching certificate or he wouldn’t pay for my final year at all. As a hobby, I loved reading the catalog of university courses. As a result, I mastered their ambiguous grammar and found a way to graduate after 3.5 years, then entered the School of Education as a postgraduate special student in the Ford Foundation Fellowship Program, which sent me to teach in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
In the 1960s, employment options for all women were the following meager list: teacher, bank teller, secretary, nurse, department store buyer, librarian, hostess, and office worker (file clerk or receptionist). Law school, medical school, and MBAs weren’t something “girls” were supposed to do. We were meant to be housewives. I had completed all requirements for my degree and planned for the luxuries of art history, and other extravagance of a liberal arts education.
My dad made it very clear that law school was a ridiculous idea and the only reason I wanted to work for an MBA was “work evasion”. Of course, I was angry. Now fast forward. I did the first three things in that list above. I taught in Sheboygan, worked as a bank teller in Cleveland, starting my MBA at night at Case Western Reserve. Then in New York City, she worked as a secretary at the Manufacturer Hanover Trust. (My dad also made me spend one summer going to secretarial school. Now that we all have keyboards, swiping is a very useful skill.)
It wasn’t the 1960s long after World War II and the Korean War when the United States thought we should give our veterans great medical care and education to fight in the war. Corporate tax law has made it easier to pay for courses that will improve your value to the employer. It didn’t take me long to realize that I could get help paying my college fees if I only cared about working in places with payment plans. My secretarial job was at Manufacturers Hanover, now buried inside JPMorgan Chase, which had a plan that someone had thought well of. If you get an A, they pay 100% of your tuition fees. If you get a B, they pay 80%. C was offset by half and D got 0. I thought that was very fair.
Now as employers struggle to get the employees they want, they are once again turning to finding and training hardworking workers at the company’s expense. Tuition assistance is one of the best incentives a company can provide to attract and retain workers. Citibank has added his name to the list of companies that advertise completely free college programs for employees, sometimes in partner schools. This must be done at the national level. I think they should let the students get into the best college of their choice and then get tuition assistance by following the model in the manufacturers years ago.
Since I went at night while working full time, it took me seven years to get my MBA at NYU. In the end, you’re done. At the time I was earning $5,000 a year, so paying my $1,000 tuition fee was like earning 20% more. My dad was well able to pay for his MBA, and once he realized I was doing it without his help, he eventually paid too. But these programs, more than loan forgiveness, are a great way forward.
Joan Lappin CFA has been called an “investment guru” by Business Week and “top manager” by the Wall Street Journal. The Sarasota resident founded Gramercy Capital Management, a registered investment advisory firm, in 1986. Email JLappincfa@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @joanlappin. Its previous columns appear in heraldtribune.com/business/columns.