Cook Employee, Student, Motorcycle Enthusiast
The decision to go to college was made easier for 28-year-old Ian Wildridge when his employer, Cook Medical, offered to help pay the tuition.
“It’s been a great help,” Wildridge says. “Having my employer pay my college tuition is a huge thing, because it’s not cheap to go to school. Basically, they are offering scholarships to anyone who is willing to go for it.”
Bloomington-based Cook, a manufacturer of medical devices, announced the tuition assistance program in 2016. Employees can work up to 28 hours per week and participate in a High School Equivalency diploma program at no cost, or earn a certificate or associate degree with Ivy Tech Community College.
Cook isn’t the only Indiana-based employer that offers college tuition programs. Many employers offer tuition plans as part of their benefits packages, to encourage employees to continue their education and upgrade their skills. Tuition plans, the reasoning goes, benefits both the employees and the companies they work for, expanding the pool of educated Hoosier workers.
At Cook, for example, company officials say that approximately 100 jobs currently posted could be filled by individuals through the High School Equivalency and Achieve Your Degree program, including careers in a dozen or so different areas, including sales operations, IT support and regulatory affairs.
For Wildridge, the Cook plan came along as he was already working his way up a career ladder.
He had attempted classes at Ivy Tech right after high school, but was unsuccessful. Once he started working at Cook in quality control, Wildridge could see the importance of continuing his education.
“Sometimes, you just don’t know what you want to do right out of high school,” Wildridge says. “I now have a very good vision of what I want my career to be. That’s where education comes in.”
He’s been promoted to the position of environmental control coordinator, a highly technical area. And he’s confident that with an associate degree of science in engineering technology, he’ll be able to continue to advance his career.
“I used to be completely frightened by analytical geometry and higher level algebra,” Wildridge says. Now that I am doing it as an adult, I enjoy tough problem sets, they help me become a better critical thinker.”
While Cook picks up the tab for tuition, Wildridge has had to make other sacrifices. Between working 40 hours per week, evening classes each week, and 2-3 hours of studying each day, he has less time.
“The stress of the deadlines and studying for tests and finals demanded a change in mindset. Once I got in the swing of it, it feels like normal life.”