Going back to school might seem impossible for a whole buffet of reasons: First of all, it's expensive. Too expensive. If you wanted to make it happen, you'd probably have to work full-time while attending full-time classes. Secondly, you're pretty sure you couldn't work full-time while attending full-time classes – that just sounds ridiculous. Your job already requires your undivided attention.
But in some industries, your returning to school would reward your employer just as much as it would you. Pursuing further education may allow your company to keep up with current trends and innovations, while also bolstering you with a higher earning potential and increased opportunities to move into more advanced positions. Certain employers recognize these mutual benefits and implement tuition assistance programs to motivate their employees to go back to school.
Tuition assistance programs allow employees to take college courses and pursue advanced degrees, all – or at least in part – on their employers' tab.
Researching Your Company's Program
Not all companies offer tuition assistance programs to their employees, but a 2005 survey from the Society for Human Resources Management found that 60 percent of corporations do. If your employer offers tuition assistance, your HR department is probably the best place to start. StraighterLine suggests that you meet with an HR representative to ask whether your employer offers a tuition assistance program and, if so, what kind of courses qualify for it. Some programs might only accept undergraduate or graduate classes, or credit-bearing or non-credit-bearing classes. Some may exclude online courses, as well, and only offer tuition assistance benefits to employees with a certain amount of seniority.
Also make sure to find out how your employer reimburses program participants for their tuition expenses. Some might pay for courses upfront, whereas other programs might require employees to pay their own tuition at first and request reimbursement from their employer after completing the course(s) in question. Ask how often your employer reimburses or pays for tuition (each term, each year, etc.), and whether you must meet a specific GPA requirement to qualify for tuition assistance.
Note that not all tuition assistance programs are made equal. UpSkill America at the Aspen Institute and the Institute for Corporate Productivity worked to identify key elements of successful tuition assistance programs. They came up with seven key elements, so look for the following in your employer's tuition assistance program:
- It aligns with your company's objectives and purpose.
- It receives visible support and endorsement.
- Your employer actively promotes and markets the program.
- It maximizes flexibility and inclusiveness.
- It emphasizes affordability, particularly on the part of the employee.
- It focuses on short-term success.
- Your employer measures and monitors program results.
Using Your Benefits
Armed with information about your company's tuition assistance program, you can begin the hunt for further education. Before enrolling in a class, make sure you know whether it's eligible under your employer's plan, and whether it comes from an approved provider (if this requirement applies). Learn whether you need approval from a manager or supervisor before enrolling, and what the school's enrollment process is in the first place.
If you've found a course or degree that checks off all your employer's boxes, it's time to exercise those tuition assistance benefits. To make the most of tuition reimbursement, make sure to enroll in credit-bearing courses, which can transfer into accredited degrees. Consider low-cost options, as well – chances are, your employer can only cover up to a certain amount of tuition each year, so it's important to make those dollars count for as much education as they can buy. Less expensive programs may help you maximize your tuition reimbursement benefits.
Finally, don't expect your newly educated self to emerge from your employer-reimbursed educational experience with a brand new degree, some impressive qualifications and the freedom to leave your company for something bigger, better and more exciting. According to Inc., employers often fear their employees will run off to another job immediately after advancing their education, so they create a tuition assistance catch. You may have to commit to staying with your company for a certain period of time following your education in order to qualify for tuition reimbursement benefits.