Since most online degree seekers are adults in the work force, getting an employer to pay for school is a very popular strategy for this group. In fact, according to a survey by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), almost one-third of corporate tuition plans now fund online or “blended” school programs.
Like a scholarship, school financial aid from an employer is “free money” — or at least it’s almost free money. Employers will often give a good deal of tuition assistance. But while they won’t ask you to pay the money back in most cases, an employer tuition grant usually comes with strings attached. Almost all companies will require you to keep working for them for at least a year after you complete any degree or certificate program they pay for, and some will ask you to stay with them for several years. It’s extremely important to find out exactly what you are committing to before accepting college tuition assistance from your employer. Your company’s human resources director should be able to tell you exactly what the rules are, and you may find that there is a good deal of information about tuition assistance on your company’s website as well.
The current economic recession has caused companies to cut back spending in many areas, and tuition assistance has definitely been affected. At a general level, you probably have a better chance of getting help in paying for school if you work for a very large company. But no matter where you work, the tough financial environment probably means that you’ll do some work to convince your employer that they should pay for you to go back to school.
Selling The Value Of You
The key is to convince your employer that will make your more a more valuable worker. Getting a degree that will help you change careers is not what they’ll want to pay for. An employer will usually show interest in paying for training that will either boost your skills for the job you’re already doing for them, or for something they are thinking of promoting you into. An MBA is the usually looked upon most favorably – so favorably that some companies actually insist that managers go back to school to get one. But don’t expect to get reimbursed for art history or philosophy courses.
To succeed at getting your employer to pay for your degree, be prepared to tell your HR director or your boss (and possibly both) exactly why they should finance your education. It’s a great idea to actually rehearse exactly how you are going to make the case that going to school will not interfere with your work and that it will be a good investment for your company.
Remember that employers have a very real interest in giving their workers the skills they need to be successful. It’s a lot more expensive and frankly, a lot more troublesome to bring in new hires than to keep good people in the company, and most companies know that they’ll have a better chance of keeping you for some time if you rely on them to pay for your degree.
Taking an online degree program should not put you at any disadvantage for company tuition reimbursement. In fact, companies are among the biggest boosters of distance learning, because they love the fact that it’s so economical.
A Big Company Benefit
If you work for a large company, make sure to ask if your employer has a partnership with any particular college or university, either online or traditional. It many be easier for you to get reimbursement for a university degree online at a “partner” school than with other institutions.
Expect that you’ll have to stay for at least a year after completing your degree to qualify for employer tuition reimbursement, and that the course of study will need to clearly relate to your job. While most companies are more willing to fund education for full-time employers, being a part-timer doesn’t necessarily mean you will be shut out. Some large companies offer a flat tuition benefit of a few thousand dollars a year to part-timers, even if they don’t cover the full tuition bill. But as a part-timer, you may have to work for the company for several years before you can qualify for this type of benefit.
Even if there is not formal tuition reimbursement program at your company, you may be able to simply create your own. Try writing up a detailed proposal of what you want to study, the costs and the time commitment and what the benefits will be. 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.
Another tip to keep in mind: make sure to check if you can transfer any credits from any courses you may have taken previously toward your new degree, or if you can get credits for taking a CLEP (College Level Examination Program) test. Either option will make you and your boss happy by making your study program take less time and money.
Back Your Tuition Assistance With A Contract
Don’t be surprised if your employer asks you to sign a tuition reimbursement contract before getting any grants for college. It’s a reasonable request. Key issues you need to understand before signing such a contract are:
- Your commitment level. Don’t sign a contract that asks you to live up to impossible terms or stay more than a few years with the company.
- How will your tuition be paid? Many online colleges and universities now offer direct payment options for employers to pay for employee schooling. But some companies will want to deduct your educational costs from your paycheck and then pay it back to you later – but only after you get your grades. Make sure you understand the terms in this critical area.
- Academic standards: Make sure you know what grade average you must maintain to keep getting financial aid. It’s quite common for companies to insist that you maintain at least a B average for them to continue paying tuition assistance.
- Stopping school: If you stop taking classes because you get sick, decide to leave the company earlier than you originally intended or decide you don’t like the school you’re studying with, what happens? Some employers will require you to pay them back for the courses you have taken if you do not follow through and complete your degree, while others may have a rule that you complete your studies within a set period of time.
- What about books? It’s not unusual for tuition assistance to include coverage for your textbooks, which could save you a few hundred dollars per semester.
The biggest employee tuition packages, by the way, are generally paid by colleges and universities themselves. Schools often give tuition help not only to their own professors and administrators, but provide money for the education of their children as well.