As an organization that works with education-related businesses daily, it’s fitting that a learning mindset is a fundamental part of FACTS. From mentorship programs and coffee chats to podcasts and book clubs, FACTS offers countless opportunities for associates to learn and develop, creating the awesome work environment that makes up one of our core values.

One of the most exciting and robust learning options offered to associates is Nelnet University. This expansive platform offers asynchronous and instructor-led courses, cohorts, micro-degree programs, personalized coaching, and more to associates across all Nelnet’s business lines – including FACTS. Courses cover a wide range of topics, giving associates the opportunity to upskill, reskill, and pursue topics that interest them both personally and professionally.

With 94% of employees stating that they would stay at a company longer if it invested in helping them to learn, educational resources are no longer optional for businesses. “The conversation is no longer about what I can do for my employer; it’s about what they can do for me. How can I grow with them?” explains Nycci Jones, Director of Organizational Development & Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Nelnet and founder of Nelnet University. “We definitely meet that demand with Nelnet University.”

Nelnet University 101

The initial idea for Nelnet University was fittingly born in a college classroom. While Jones was studying for her PhD, she was inspired by a lecture by Dr. David Vance, founder of the successful Caterpillar University at Caterpillar Inc., on the ROI of learning. Thinking back on previous conversations with colleagues about associate training being outsourced, Jones began thinking about how beneficial it would be for her own company to offer a way for associates to learn, develop, and grow within the walls of the organization. By 2018, Nelnet University was up and running.

“The programs were built very intentionally so we can meet people where they are at all stages of their careers,” says Jones. “We want people to be able to learn on a daily basis.” And learn they have. Since its inception, associates have completed over 70,000 courses through Nelnet University, choosing from over 800 unique course offerings. In 2021 alone, use of the OnDemand library increased by 124%. In fact, Nelnet University alumni now make up nearly 50% of the total active workforce at Nelnet.

While learning remains the primary focus of Nelnet University, it’s also a powerful retention and engagement tool. “If an employee is in a six-month program, you’re retaining an employee for six months. You’re engaging them for six months. You put them in these programs and let them flourish,” states Jones.

The statistics speak for themselves. 94% of employees that have enrolled in a Nelnet University class are still employed within the organization and 44.3% of enrolled individuals have been promoted. In 2021, Nelnet even took home a BEST award from the Association for Talent Development, awarded to organizations with exceptional employee talent development.

So what exactly makes this award-winning program so successful? Let’s take a closer look at what’s in store once you enroll in Nelnet University.

Class is in Session

Nelnet University is comprised of four distinct schools, each offering different course materials for associates in all stages of their careers. The courses are designed to be built upon, with associates working through each progressively advanced school. Each school offers an executive-sanctioned cohort with a capstone project, which Jones explains speaks to how much the executives back the program and want to foster a culture of learning.

The School of Professional Development

The first school is the School of Professional Development, which is open to all employees and contains a staggering amount of learning materials. Chances are, if you want to learn something, you can learn it through the School of Professional Development. One of the most popular offerings within this school is the OnDemand Library, constantly updated with new courses covering everything from coding to photography. These courses are asynchronous and available outside the portal, meaning associates can access them anytime, anywhere.

This school is also home to FlexEd, which offers over 30 course packets with multiple units that allow associates to dive deeper into topics, the Basic Business Writing program, and the Preparing for Leadership cohort. Open to anyone in the company, this six-month cohort teaches associates the skills necessary for leadership, as well as how to become promotable. Participants also get to broaden their network, learning from people across the company and gaining access to Q and A’s, lunches, and more with head company executives.

One of the most unique learning opportunities within the School of Professional Development is the micro degree program. Through a partnership with edX, associates can take virtual courses from universities throughout the country, including Ivy League schools, to earn a micro bachelor’s or micro master’s degree. Associates not only get the opportunity to put this leadership course on their resumes, but can also put the credentials towards their degree if they continue with a formal program.

The School of Leadership

The second school within Nelnet University is the School of Leadership, intentionally designed to build on the skills gained in the School of Professional Development. As Jones explains, “People typically get promoted because they’re really good at their jobs. So they’re a subject matter expert, but do they have the skill set to actually lead people? We set up this program to address that.”

The school contains two cohorts, Emerging Leaders and Steps to Supervisory Success. Emerging Leaders helps team leaders gain the skills they need to successfully manage a team. Topics run the gamut from how to give constructive feedback to how to communicate in a diverse environment, establishing the skills leaders need to thrive in the workplace. Steps to Supervisory Success is the next step in the journey to leadership, delving into more important subjects for supervisors, like authentic leadership, delegation, and establishing strong team values.

As with all cohorts, enrolled associates will have the ability to learn from not only the course materials, but also the executives sponsoring the program. An added bonus? Both cohorts within the school are accredited at the MBA level, giving associates another opportunity to get a head start on degrees that can further increase their chances of promotions.

The School of Business Acumen

The path to leadership continues in the third school at Nelnet University, the School of Business Acumen. Open to managers on up, this school was designed to help associates in leadership roles broaden their scope as they move into manager roles, shifting focus from their specific department to the overall organization. This is achieved through an eleven-month program called IGNITE, where associates learn to see from an enterprise-wide perspective, employing new strategic thinking as they tackle course topics like change management, negotiation, and more.

The School of IT

The fourth and newest school in Nelnet University is the School of IT. As part of Nelnet University’s mission to meet employees where they’re at in their careers, Jones realized that certain groups might be missing out. “I realized that we were missing a big population of people. There’s a certain set of associates that need continuous education – and that’s IT,” she explains.

Nelnet University then set out to bring this continuous education in-house, partnering with the IT Team to ensure that the learning IT professionals need can be done through the university. The school includes opportunities for redevelopment, reskilling, upskilling, and pre- and post-assessments. Associates are also able to access learning paths and certification preps that help them prepare for the important certifications that are part of working in the IT field.

Extra Credit

Still hungry for knowledge? In addition to four robust schools of learning, Nelnet University also offers coaching, team building, and consulting. A team of certified internal coaches are available to coach individuals and teams on virtually anything, employing 360s, individual development plans, and more to help associates reach specific goals. This is a great way to move from theory into practice, with a designated coach to help associates make a plan and then check in to ensure that they’re staying on target.

The Nelnet University team takes the same approach to Team Building by building custom trainings after consulting with teams on their specific needs. From working on better communication to creating a psychologically safe space for a team at odds, Nelnet University works with teams on an individual basis to create programs designed to help them build successful work environments.

The Future

With Nelnet University celebrating its 5th anniversary next year, the team continues to look for new ways to create learning for every part of the organization. Jones reveals that the team is about to launch a new campaign called NU 4 You, designed to bring learning opportunities to associates working in contact centers. “These associates are speaking to our core values by providing superior customer service to our customers, but they spend a lot of time on the phone and have to meet certain matrices. We wanted to find a way to get them involved,” states Jones.

NU 4 You solves for this, offering associates the chance to do bi-weekly trainings through the OnDemand catalog, as well as participate in associate resource groups and mentor programs. “It’s so exciting because we’re tapping into an area that is not only the most diverse throughout our organization, but also has the most people,” Jones explains. By bringing a new group of employees into the fold of Nelnet University, the team has found yet another way to meet associates exactly where they are.

From this exciting upcoming program to the expansive course offerings already available, it’s clear that FACTS will continue to invest in the learning mindset that drives the organization. From the newest associate to the most seasoned executive, it’s programs like Nelnet University that make lifelong learning possible.