If your employer left $5,000 on your desk, would you just walk away from it? Surprisingly, a large number of people essentially do just that every year: Fewer than 10 percent of employees whose companies offer tuition assistance programs take advantage of them*. It’s like leaving money — and opportunity — on the table. Here’s how to make the most of your employer tuition benefit.
Understand Your Benefits
Tuition benefits may not be well publicized or could be buried somewhere in your employee handbook. Check with your HR department for a full tuition benefits description. To understand the different types of support that are commonly available, review these typical types of tuition benefit plans below:
- Employer-Paid Programs- Employers pay directly for part or all of your education. This can include tuition costs, books and materials.
- Reimbursement Programs – You pay for your tuition up front. Later, all or part of the money is refunded to you. The government allows you to accept up to $5,250 of this money tax-free from your employer.
- High-Performing Employees – Certain companies only offer a tuition benefit to those who are considered high-performing employees. The definition of a high performer can vary from organization to organization. Some employees are considered high-performers if they go above and beyond by generating income, bringing in new business, gaining special recognition or by saving the company money.
- Part-Time Employees – Tuition benefits may be restricted only to full-time employees or offered to part-timers on a pro-rated basis.
- College Alliances – Larger corporations may partner with a specific school to help save themselves and their employees money on tuition. Working with colleges may also help ensure that a school’s degree program aligns with company goals.
Tips for Success
Keep it Relevant
If you work as an accountant, your employer probably won’t pay for a degree in psychology. Choose a degree that makes sense with your current career path and your company’s product or service.
Prove Your Case
If your employer doesn’t offer tuition assistance, the company still might be willing to help pay for your schooling. Before you ask, you’ll need to be able to make a strong business case for why investing in your education will benefit the company. Be prepared to answer questions about costs, time away from work and how having an employee with your degree or certification will save money or increase revenue. In our Serious Talk Webinar on returning to school, Kate Wollensak, Director of Compensation at Morton Salt, discusses what you can do if your employer doesn’t have a tuition program.
Watch Video: Taking Advantage of Your Company's Tuition Reimbursement
Read the Fine Print
You likely will need to sign a contract before accepting any tuition money. Read the fine print, and be realistic about where you think you can and cannot deliver. Not meeting the contract requirements often means that you’ll have to pay back the tuition money. Companies may also require an employee to stay for several years after you get your degree.
Make the Grade
Your employer isn’t sending you to school to barely pass your courses. Expect to be required to maintain a certain GPA. Some companies only reimburse for classes in which you’ve earned an A. Know the expectation ahead of time and have a plan for meeting it.
Keep Your Promises
The whole idea of going back to school is to show your employer that you are a great investment. Finish your degree. Don’t drop classes and don’t drop out. Show that you are committed to your company’s success and your own.
* EdLink’s Annual Review of Employer Tuition Assistance Programs - Data and Trend Analysis.