Columbia's largest employer offers free education to employees

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COLUMBIA - The University of Missouri is Columbia's single largest employer, employing more than 13,000 people between the university and hospital. 

For years, it has been the university's policy to pay up to 75 percent of employees college education through MU. 

As of Thursday, employees have a new option. 

In a news release, MU announced a pilot program to allow employees without a high school diploma to work toward one, for free. 

"This innovative program provides a wonderful opportunity for MU staff to complete their high school diplomas in the safe and convenient MU community," said Zac March, director of Mizzou K-12 Online School, in the release. "The ‘last mile' of finishing a high school diploma can seem like a far-off dream for some, but the staff and teachers at MU High School are here to support and encourage staff who register for the program."

Employees who register for the program will have their tuition paid for through an existing tuition assistance program, in addition to funds from the College of Education and the Mizzou K-12 Online program.

"Offering MU employees the opportunity to earn their high school diplomas from an accredited and well-respected entity like MU High School just makes sense," said Daniel Clay, dean of the College of Education. "It is good for the employees and the university."

Additionally, a locally based company, MBS Direct, will assist students with the cost of textbooks.

The new assistance program is a two-year pilot project. After the two year test period is completed, course completion rates will be analyzed to determine if the benefit should be extended to employees at the other three campuses of the University of Missouri System.

The pilot program is open to employees at MU, the UM System, MU Health Care and MU Extension.