According to the website of Ardent Credit Union ($628.7M, Philadelphia, PA), “Grit makes great.” That’s the ethos of a cooperative rooted in healthcare and dedicated to improving the lives of its now-broader membership, communities, and employees.
The Philadelphia-based credit union is a stone’s throw from a number of outstanding universities, and its eight branches, spread across Pennsylvania, include locations in Collegeville, Upper Providence, and King of Prussia.
In this Q&A, vice president and chief people officer Mary Hoffman discusses how the credit union found the right partner with whom to collaborate on an in-house MBA program that helps staff members learn together as a team.
Mary Hoffman, VP/Chief People Officer, Ardent Credit Union
How did the idea for an in-house MBA cohort surface?
Mary Hoffman:When Rob Werner joined the credit union as CEO in 2013, we discussed empowering employees and giving them new educational opportunities they might not otherwise have. With our location in Philly, we have 10 outstanding universities near our offices. We thought it would be great to find a way to partner with one of these institutions to help more of our staff members earn advanced degrees.
How did you select a partner?
MH:We started by contacting universities and brought in five to interview. The institutions had to be willing to bring their programs to us and use our training facility for on-site classes.
Each of them submitted a proposal outlining how they could tailor their MBA programs to our needs, and we discussed their offerings with the program heads of each institution. We wanted to ensure our employees received the same level of education as they would if they were on campus.
From there, we narrowed it to three institutions and ultimately selected Holy Family University. It came down to a cultural fit that drove our final decision.
How does the credit union select employees to participate in the program?
MH: We opened this to any employee who had an interest in earning their MBA. They must have a bachelor’s degree, but that is the only requirement beyond their interest and commitment to participating.
We did a preliminary survey to gauge the staff’s interest because the program needed a minimum of 10 people. We had 15 employees express interest, and 13 signed up and started the program in March 2015.
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What’s the curriculum like?
MH: The program consists of 10 classes. Each participant can choose how to complete those over a two-year period. Some elect to take five classes each year; others load up in the first year or vice versa.
The coursework itself is all based on case studies. Students have work they must complete before each eight-week class. The cohort meets every Wednesday evening from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the training room. There are heavy weekly reading assignments, a discussion board, and a written case study analysis. Some classes also include group projects.
In addition to the eight-week class schedule, there are also weekend intensives students can participate in. These are concentrated sessions held at one of Holy Family’s satellite campuses and include students outside of the credit union’s cohort.
We wanted a broader learning experience that would result in other benefits such as being able to collaborate, research, and come up with thoughtful ideas or suggestions as a team.
The intensives have approximately three weeks of pre-work and begin on Friday evening, continuing all day Saturday and Sunday. It is an intense experience, but it allows participants to knock out a whole class over the weekend. It also gives us a chance to get to know other students in Philadelphia and learn from their perspectives.
When will the initial cohort graduate? Has everyone stuck with the program?
MH: This first cohort will graduate in December 2016. It is an intense program and a lot of work, but we’ve only had two of our original 13 drop out — and that was after the first class or two.
Three people left the organization, but they have stayed with the program on their own.
Before an employee joins the program, they must complete an interview process with the university to ensure they understand the demands of the program. This has helped prevent dropouts and kept our graduation rate high.
Our graduation rate of current employees will be at 62%. If you factor in the three that left the organization but stayed with the program, it is even higher.
CU QUICK FACTS
Ardent Credit Union
HQ: Philadelphia, PA
Data as of 03.31.16
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 5.6%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 6.3%
Does the credit union reimburse tuition?
MH: The credit union pays for two-thirds of the cost, so we contribute $6,000 per year on behalf of each student. The staff member can pay the remainder through payroll deduction or choose another payment plan that works for them.
Ardent also offers general tuition reimbursement, also set at $6,000 per year across the board. This is equitable for those pursuing either a bachelor’s or graduate degree.
In addition to the Holy Family partnership, we have a partnership with New England College of Business, which is online. This is a great option for those who can’t make the in-house sessions work with their schedules.
Lastly, we’re looking at bringing an undergrad program in-house as a cohort.
Is the Holy Family MBA curriculum customized for the credit union?
MH:The curriculum is the same as what you’d get on campus. However, when the credit union was preparing to implement a sales and service environment, we wanted something connected with that initiative and asked for a specific weekend intensive last year. It was open to other students beyond our credit union, so we had a total of 50 people there. But, the university took our suggestion for the topic, which was helpful.
What advice would you give another credit union considering bringing education in-house?
MH: The best advice I can give is to partner with a college or university that meets the needs of your organization and is a good cultural fit.
We were looking for an institution that wouldn’t just ask us to memorize information and take tests — we wanted a broader learning experience that would result in other benefits such as being able to collaborate, research, and come up with thoughtful ideas or suggestions as a team. And that is exactly the kind of experience we’ve gotten.
— As told to Sharon Simpson