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Taking Advantage of Employer Tuition Assistance Programs

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One of the first places to look for tuition assistance is right where you work. More and more companies, keen to invest in the betterment of their employees, are offering tuition assistance. Any tuition due diligence should include consultation with your human resources department or employer benefit manager. Don't assume your company has no such benefit; it simply may not be company policy to advertise the fact. If your employer does have a tuition program, inquire deep into its structure and finer details. You may be tempted to jump at the offer of tuition assistance but your decision should take careful measure between your employer's terms and your educational needs.

Common Stipulations of Tuition Assistance

  • Full-Time Status: Benefits of any sort are typically contingent upon full-time employment. Tuition assistance for part-time employees is less common and often less in amount. Tuition assistance may only apply to employees that have fulfilled a certain amount of service and may require a further term of commitment to the company.
  • Relevance: Employers are typically looking for direct returns on their investment: applicable knowledge, advanced skills, relevant credentials. Assistance is often tied to programs that are germane to the company. If your desired field of study is unrelated or falls in a gray area, be sure you have explicit approval.
  • Reimbursement: Programs vary but the most common model is built on reimbursement. Employees shoulder the burden of tuition and other costs upfront. Reimbursement remains conditional until employees provide transcripts of achievement. Reimbursement may hinge on course completion or minimal grade points.
  • Tuition Caps: Employers may not fund your education in full. Assistance may hinge on a company fund and the number of participating employees. Or assistance may be capped per employee, per semester, in terms of tuition or credit hours. It may also only apply to tuition and leave uncovered fees, books, and supplies.
  • Accessibility: Employers need their employees to work. Education can not interfere or impose strain on job performance. Employers may favor online college education because online programs are cost-effective and offer employee-students more flexibility in their schedules.

Establishing Tuition Assistance At Your Company

If your company doesn't currently offer tuition assistance, consider initiating the idea on your own. First and foremost, take into consideration the financial and political atmosphere of your company. Consider, too, general company philosophy: how it regards continuing education, outside pursuits, personal lives. A healthy company can afford to think in the long term. A progressive company may be willing to work out of the box. A company that encourages longevity and loyalty may see the benefits of sending you to school.

  • Your work performance should show merit, ambition, and results. Being a proven and reliable employee lends the idea necessary validity.
  • Your educational aims should line up with your role in the company. The more direct benefits you can promise your company, the more they can think of the idea as an investment.
  • Gather concrete and persuasive information. Decide on a program and have at hand course particulars, tuition estimates and payment plans.
  • Prepare a thorough argument. Research what other companies offer in the way of tuition assistance. Be ready to address any concerns or reservations. Be ready to negotiate figures and compromise terms.
  • Anticipate for your employer the tax consequences for setting up a tuition assistance plan. Look into the IRS regulations and schedules concerning both education-assistance and worker fringe benefits.

    Internal Revenue Code Section 127: Educational Assistance Programs
    http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-wd/0245042.pdf

    Taxable Fringe Benefit Guide
    http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/fringe_benefit_fslg.pdf

Sources:
  • "Sample Tuition Reimbursement Policy", Employment Law Information Network, Jan 2010 (http://www.elinfonet.com/pickedpol/162.html)
  • "Employer Tuition Assistance" FinAid, Jan 2010 (http://www.finaid.org/otheraid/employertuitionassistance.phtml)
  • "How To Get Your Employer to Pay For College" Hub Pages, Jan 2010 (http://hubpages.com/hub/How-to-get-Your-Employer-to-Pay-for-College)
  • "How to Get Your Employer To Pay For Your Education", Brazen Careerist, Jan 2010 (http://www.brazencareerist.com/2009/03/31/how-to-get-your-employer-to-pay-for-your-education)
  • Internal Revenue Code Section 127: Educational Assistance Programs (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-wd/0245042.pdf)
  • Taxable Fringe Benefit Guide (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/fringe_benefit_fslg.pdf)

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