A step beyond on-the-job-training, tuition reimbursement programs are common in public schools, universities and colleges, and many corporations. Part of the employee benefits package, the option to attend college or graduate school, in person or online, either for individual courses or full degrees, is one of the pricier but more effective benefits a company may offer. In sum, the employee agrees to take courses or achieve a degree that relates directly to his job and his employer’s business. In exchange, the employer repays some or all of the costs of the employee’s education. The employee generally also agrees to continue his employment at the company or school for a specified period of time, and the employer guarantees that he will be employed for that duration.
This can be the best of all win-win situations, but it requires a great deal of cash commitment by the employer and an equal amount of dedication to excellence on the part of the employee. College is not cheap no matter who is paying the bill. For an employer to be guaranteed an employee trained in the best possible way for the job he has been contracted to do, however, it is money well spent. Poorly trained employees are a drain on the employer’s resources as well, and hunting for qualified replacements is both time-consuming and often fruitless. Creating the best employee may be the optimal solution. A study conducted by Spherion, a company specializing in staffing issues, indicates that 62% of employees who accessed tuition reimbursement were more likely to remain with the employer that paid for their educational advancement.
Many such programs are designed and implemented by ACT, the college entrance-exam people, Interplx, and Scholarship America, among others. These companies offer services to employers to help them coordinate a reasonable and effective reimbursement program. In many cases, the employer offers full reimbursement. In others there is an annual cap or a per-course limit. Sometimes the amount is a percentage of the tuition. In most cases, the employee must pay the bill up front, and when the course work is completed, file for reimbursement. Some companies withhold the payment for as much as a year to ensure that the employee will live up to his end of the bargain, so make sure you can afford to wait. Keep in mind that as the employee, you will also receive a tax exemption of up to $5,250 per year, so you should calculate that into the out-of-pocket cost.
Naturally, it is important to check with your employer before you dash off to the local college admissions office. Not all tuition is qualified for reimbursement under most plans, nor are all schools. Employers tend to prefer that you attend a college that is accredited and well-respected. Be advised that many reputable schools offer online degrees if you want the scheduling flexibility that comes from distance learning. Your employer may require that you achieve a particular minimum grade in your courses, so be prepared to work hard. Tuition reimbursement is not a free give away but a means to an end that works for both parties involved.
Here is a short list of employers that publicize this benefit: Dartmouth College, Google, Xerox, General Mills, and Philip Morris USA, Ernst and Young, and Hilton Hotels, Inc. Obviously the range of industries represented is wide. In a study by Yahoo! Education, Chicago Mercantile Exchange ranked first as a company IT professionals should look at if they are interested in moving their careers forward with additional, paid-for, training and education. For a more companies, check the Fortune Magazine list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.” All of them offer a tuition reimbursement program.
But do not overlook your current employer. Even if they do not currently have a program in place, a suggestion that you might be interested in moving forward with a little financial encouragement could be all that’s necessary to get the ball rolling. Negotiating is an art form that should never be neglected.
Further your education with your employer’s support, and you may find you have jumped several rungs on the corporate ladder with just a small investment in sweat and cash.