For working adults, going back to school requires online flexibility and layers of support

Carlene Wilson left high school 39 years ago at age 16 when she became a mother. Now at age 55, she beams, “I was most proud of showing my diploma to my daughters and my grandchildren because they encouraged me along the way.”

Carlene earned her Smart Horizons’ Career Online High School diploma through her restaurant services employer of 33 years. Thanks to the company’s investment in education benefits, Carlene’s tuition was covered in full. Increasingly, employers like hers are turning to tuition assistance programs to invest in employees’ education and provide pathways to career advancement, thereby increasing retention and combating the rising costs of employee turnover.

In fact, TDn2K, a leading restaurant industry data and research organization, estimates that employee turnover costs companies over $2,000 for hourly employees and more than $15,000 for a restaurant manager.

For a restaurant manager like Carlene, who always wanted to finish high school, that goal had previously felt unattainable given her job and family responsibilities. But her mindset changed when she saw a flyer at work promoting the program.

“Our partners in the restaurant, grocery, retail, and convenience sectors recognize that offering a high school diploma is foundational for their education programs because so many frontline workers have not had the chance to complete their diploma,” explains Dr. Howard Liebman the Superintendent of the Smart Horizons’ Career Online High School district. He acknowledges, “Carlene is a great example of an employee who felt comfortable returning to high school thanks to an employer-sponsored program.”

When she first enrolled, Carlene recalls, “I was nervous because I hadn’t been in school for 39 years. I wondered if I could even do it.”

But she found a way. A full-time employee, Carlene worked on her lessons after her shift, even putting in extra hours on her days off. When asked about her most important lesson, she shared: “I learned I was smarter than I thought I was, and that I can achieve anything I put my mind and heart into.”

It wasn’t just her family that inspired her to continue. Carlene credits her success to her academic coach Alanna Taylor. “She encouraged me all of the time. She pushed me. She believed in me.”

She admits she was nervous at first but advises other working adults to push through their fears. “No matter what your age or what’s going on in your everyday life—always believe in your goals and in yourself.”