For most working adults it is not just the time it takes to go back to school it is the money too. The good news is that you may be able to get your employer to pay for college or at the very least some of your educational expenses.
Getting Started: Check Out Your Benefits Package
According to U.S. News and World Report, almost half of all American employees are offered some type of education benefits with their jobs. Corporate tax laws allow companies to give you up to about $5,000 tax free to pay for school tuition.
Tuition assistance stands as an important element in the financing of higher education. The American Council of Education estimates that roughly 20 percent of graduate students and 6 percent of the much larger number of undergraduates receive some financial assistance from their employers to attend school. As many as a third of undergraduates in fields like business and engineering receive tuition assistance from their employers. Tuition assistance is the most common source of financial aid for college students, and on average it covers about one-third of the average annual cost paid by post-secondary students.
Even if there is no formal tuition reimbursement program at your company, you may be able to simply create your own or even convince leadership to implement a systemwide program. Try writing up a detailed proposal of what you want to study, the costs and the time commitment and what the benefits will be. Also remind your employer that they may receive tax credits for paying your tuition which can appeal to the company's overall financial health.
Finding Your Focus: The Value Proposition
Rule #1 - remember who is paying your tuition. Focus on how your education adds value to the organization and your department. In general employers consider one of two questions before they make a hire:
- “How can this person make me money”
- “How can this person save me money”
If you want to convince your employer to pay for your education you need to focus your proposal on these two realities.
Step One: Point Out Employer Benefits
Peter Cappelli in "Why Do Employers Pay for College?" (NBER Working Paper No. 9225) finds that, "tuition assistance programs appear to allow firms to hire better quality, more educated, more productive, employees." That extra productivity makes it economically feasible to pay a large portion of employees' tuition bills while also contributing to the success of the organization.
Why do so many companies provide tuition assistance for their employees who pursue post-secondary education? College courses give employees new "general skills" that raise the ability of these workers to qualify for higher pay - their market wage - and may enable them to more easily jump to another job in another firm. General skills, such as communications and analytic ability, are not necessarily aimed at the specific tasks of employees. But even occupationally specialized post-secondary programs, such as nursing or computer programming, are valuable to a great many employers. The employer costs of such education are not trivial and are often quite generous. Yet they enable employees to obtain degrees or other readily identifiable credentials that make them more marketable to other firms.
Further, tuition assistance tempts employees to stay longer with the company as they make use of the benefit, spending their evenings and weekends working through a schedule of college courses towards a degree - a part-time process that could last many years. Lower turnover saves employers on the substantial costs of searching for and hiring new employees to replace those leaving. Tuition assistance also may give employers a hint as to which of their workers possess superior ability.
If the employer thinks you can reach your potential without the degree, they may not agree to pay for it. So be prepared to show specific ways that this degree will enhance your job performance.
Step Two: Do Your Homework And Prove It
It really helps to know all the different local college and online college options before presenting your case for tuition reimbursement.
Don't present the priciest option to your employer, unless you can absolutely show that it will pay off the most for the company. It will seem like you're using them to land an incredible deal on college. Come with a couple of options but ready to present just one. The more you know about the rates and the school, the more it will show the employer that going there is important to you.
It also helps your case if you mention that you'll be applying for scholarships and grants and are only asking if they'll pay for the remaining bill. Financial aid representatives refer to "packages" because the majority of funding comes from multiple sources. Diversifying your portfolio is a smart tactic to leverage when proposing a plan to your employer.
The Bottom Line
Providing a solid plan on how you will use your new degree to advance your company and add value to your organization will provide you the best chance for getting your tuition paid.