Going back to college can help advance your career. But before you register for classes and buy your books, you might want to take one more back-to-school step and talk to your employer about tuition matching.
Asking your boss to pay for part of your education can be awkward, but it can be worth it. If your company offers a tuition-matching program, you can get a discount on your education and show your employer that you're invested in your career development. And if your company doesn't have a program, you could help create one so that future employees can further their educations.
What is tuition matching?
Tuition matching—also called tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement—is an employment benefit wherein employers pay, at least in part, for their employees to continue their educations. The amount of assistance depends on the organization—some companies pay for an employee's entire degree; others reimburse a portion each year or semester.
UPS's Learn & Earn Program, for example, grants part-time employees up to $25,000 for their college educations. According to Glassdoor, Geico reimburses eligible full-time associates studying at accredited community or two-year colleges up to $5,250 per year and covers application fees, course-related charges, and up to 75 percent of textbook costs, among other expenses. And Disney offers its hourly employees free tuition to any institution connected to its Aspire program; an employee can take classes toward their bachelor's degree, master's degree, or GED after only 90 days with the company.
Small and midsize companies—which might not have the same revenue as larger companies, sometimes offer tuition assistance or reimbursement. According to the Harvard Business Review, 52 percent of companies provide some graduate tuition reimbursement.
How to talk to your company about tuition matching.
Talking to your employer about benefits can be tough, and broaching the topic of education assistance can be even tougher. Here are four strategies that can help you start the conversation.
Do your homework. Before you even ask for a chat, do your research. Does your workplace even have a tuition-assistance program? If so, are you eligible for it? Sometimes companies will only pay for employees to obtain degrees in relevant fields. Sometimes there are stipulations: Some companies only offer assistance to full-time employees or employees who've been with the company for a certain number of years. And sometimes companies only fund employees who take courses at specific schools. Make sure you know the details before you start the conversation. Someone in your company's human resources department should be able to provide you with information on your company's policy.
Explain how going back to school will help your organization. Even if you don't meet the requirements for your company's tuition assistance program, it still doesn't hurt to speak to HR about it. After all, the skills you develop by going back to school make you a more valuable employee. Create a clear picture of the education you're looking to pursue and list the ways it will benefit your employer. Maybe your management classes will make you a more effective leader, or maybe your accounting classes will better equip you to balance budgets. Being able to articulate how your education will benefit the organization will help you prove your case.
Provide a cost breakdown. It helps to know how much the program will cost your employer. If you don't have an exact figure, use your best estimates, and be up-front that you're estimating. Providing a cost breakdown will show your employer that you've done your research and know what you're asking for.
Be ready to provide assurances. If your company agrees to pay for your tuition, they might want to make sure you stick around so that they can reap the benefits of your new knowledge. You might be asked to sign an education contract stipulating that you'll stay with the company for a designated period after you've completed your education. If this is the case, make sure that you understand what you're agreeing to before you sign on the dotted line.
Presenting the case for a tuition-assistance program.
If your employer doesn't already offer a tuition reimbursement program, it's time to advocate for one. This might sound daunting, but it could be as simple as researching and presenting to your employer the business case for a tuition assistance program.
Consider the following arguments:
Education reimbursement is tax-deductible.
Encouraging employees to improve their skills and develop professionally can help them invest in the company.
Education assistance is a coveted perk: Harvard Business Review reports that 44 percent of job seekers would consider a lower-paying job if it offered tuition matching.
You could also provide some info on competing organizations that offer a tuition-matching program or provide your employer with a petition from coworkers who'd like to take advantage of such a program.
Pursuing an advanced degree can only help your career. And when your employer picks up the tab (or at least part of it), everyone wins. Why wait any longer to start the conversation?