In the Charles Dickens classic Great Expectations, the reader is introduced to a poor boy, Pip, who through the intervention of an unknown benefactor, is sent to London—all expenses paid!—to learn to become a gentleman. Most of us would love to have a wealthy benefactor who generously pays for our education. But while few of us will find the kind of benefactor unveiled in this Dickens' classic, most of us do have someone in our lives that may be willing to help—our employers.
Before you assume that your boss would never spring for your tuition, ask yourself one question: Have you asked? If you haven't, then you don't really know if this is a possibility. Many adults have been surprised at how generous their employers have been when they approached them for help to go back to school. The trick is to approach your boss in the right way and to make sure that your going back to school benefits both you and your boss.
In this Guide, we'll go over some strategies to help you convince your employer that it is in the company's best interest to help you go back to school. We'll also let you in on a little secret: Many companies already have established programs to pay for an employee's tuition expenses. Like year-end bonuses, dental plans and free coffee, education benefits are a fairly common perk of many medium- to large-sized companies. Often these benefits are not widely publicized since few employees actually take advantage of them. Therefore, you may already be working for a company that is willing to help you earn your degree and all you need to do is ask.
The most common program that your employer will offer is tuition assistance or reimbursement. Companies are free to set their own policies on how these programs work. Some will pay for a certain percentage of your tuition while others will pay up to a specific dollar amount. Most tuition-assistance programs have a grade requirement, which means that if you earn lower than a "B" or "C", your company is not obligated to pay.
The requirement that some employees have trouble accepting is that companies usually will pay only for courses that are deemed "work-related." Fortunately, “work-related” is a broad term that is open for interpretation. You can often make a convincing case for courses that are not related directly to the job that you are doing now but that will help you develop professionally and learn new skills to advance your career. Take a look at the people who are above you and see what skills and educational backgrounds they have. It makes perfect sense for you to take courses to learn those same skills so that you may be promoted to those positions in the future.
Some corporations and even small companies have arrangements with the schools in an area to give discounts on certain classes or programs. For example, you might be able to take a computer training class for free or at a significant discount if the company you work for has such a deal in place. Or, if you work for a college or university (even if you are a part-time employee), you may receive sizeable discounts on courses or be allowed to attend classes for free.
Professional development classes are scheduled for employees by the company or organization for which they work. These classes are usually held on site or at a local school. They often cover material that is directly related to a job function. For example, if you work in sales, you may be able to attend a training course on negotiation skills.
Many adults find that these free training classes are not mentioned in their company's written employee policy. However, upon inquiry, the employees have been pleasantly surprised to learn that they can take up to several thousand dollars' worth of training classes. Usually a department manager is allocated a set budget at the beginning of the year for employee education. Since this budget changes with the fortunes of the company, it is not something that can be guaranteed to every employee. A manager can have discretion over these funds and is able to allocate money on a first come, first served basis. Ask your manager what kind of training money is accessible, and be sure to have an idea of what classes you want to take if funds are available.
Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.
By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
Learn how to go back to school without going broke. This is the only book that shows you how to find the best scholarships for adult students, get your employer to pay, have your student loans forgiven and much more.