It’s always amazing to me how many people do not take advantage of two important benefits offered at many workplaces.
One is the employer matching plan for a 401k distribution. Some companies are shying away from this form of savings but many still implement them and have replaced their pension plans with them. Briefly, participants of an employer-match program will receive a dollar for dollar match on money taken out of each of their paychecks up to a certain percentage that is then placed into a sponsored retirement plan (401k or 403b). Sometimes it is matched up to 12 or 20% of their pay. You can’t beat the compound interest these plans generate.
Working in human resouorces, I found there were many employees who lamented that they could not afford to take even 2% out of their salary – they were on such strict budgets. In truth, they cannot afford to miss this opportunity to save and compound their nest egg for retirement. It is difficult for the first month or so to allocate this percentage in one’s budget, but it usually is compromised swiftly, especially if a later bonus or merit raise or cost of living raise equals it and offsets the contribution. I’ve written about 401ks before, but, my focus here is on tuition reimbursement from your employer.
Even in these economy-challenged times, most employers want to invest in the employees they have and increase their investment in them by increasing their skills and value to the company. Many employees do not investigate or take advantage of this generous benefit either because they ‘don’t have the time to continue their education’ or they ‘don’t think their supervisor would approve it’. And again I say, they cannot afford not to participate in this truly gifting program.
Having done this myself, I can vouch that although the company does benefit from an employee learning and increasing their knowledge in the relative discipline subjects and also in other subjects that round out their learning curve and experience, the benefit for the company can terminate if the employee moves on to another company. For the employee, the benefit is with him or her for their entire lives. Please repeat that last sentence – it is that important. Continuing education, especially if it results in a degree or certification, is equal to getting a raise at work – it puts dollars in your pocket and represents a life-long achievement.
If your company provides tuition reimbursement, and you have not pursued this avenue, make an appointment with Human Resources (HR) today and find out what you have to do to participate. Generally, I can offer some provisions although they might differ among different companies and disciplines. Investigate – but here is some legwork you can do beforehand.
1] Decide what discipline you would like to be specialized in. If you want to pursue legal, look into paralegal or business law courses. If you are in technology, perhaps you would like to take courses for the next level – routing, international analyst, technology engineer or site administration. If you work in accounting, perhaps you would have an interest in CPA or payroll administration.
2] Look into the different courses and colleges that offer these courses and what their entrance requirements may be. You should find this all online or at the library. Also, you can check on in-house courses (traditional classroom) or on-line or distancing courses that you can take at home. Find out if the school offers them. On-line education is very popular today; some even get masters and/or doctorate degrees on them.
3] It’s important to have a plan of what you want to do and a possible avenue of options. This will give you more credibility of ambition with both your supervisor and HR when you approach them that you would like to take advantage of this opportunity.
It is helpful if you list the reasons why you want the additional learning and what courses you feel would accomplish it. Do this if you want just one course or if you have a degree in mind. Your ambitions may change midstream.
4] Approach your supervisor first. He or she has to approve your application. Appeal your case, explain your justification of how it will help both you and the company.
**Keep in mind, that companies rarely turn down requests for continuing education. This includes a one-course class or a specified degree. This is a benefit that they offer. You are responding – not asking for special favors.
5] With your supervisor in agreement, submit your approved application to HR. I always suggest making an appointment with an HR rep to do this; their job is to help you in your career development and they may have good suggestions on courses and schools. Check out your HR website; a good one will have suggestions and instructions under ‘Continuing Education’ or ‘Tuition Reimbursement’.’
6] When your application is approved, you are either ready to sign up for the one-time course, certification, or call the college of your choice for an interview and plan your curriculum.
There are some qualifications and guidelines that your employer may require for you to be eligible for tuition reimbursement:
• You may have to be a full-time employee; (some offer to permanent part-time employees).
• have completed a year of service; and
• Be on the payroll when the course is completed. (if you are let go or outsourced by the company during that time, they usually reimburse for that semester but not if you quit or leave the company on your own).
- Most companies will reimburse employees for all tuition expenses – most include entrance fees, books, and supplies).
- There usually is a maximum of how many credits a year for which they will reimburse (anywhere from 3 to 6 courses a year – some companies will allow 3 courses a semester or 12 total courses for the year including summer couses). *NOTE: Credit fees are the highest costs associated with returning to school and vary according to college. This is where you are getting a big ‘raise’.
I recommend no more than 3 courses a semester if you are working a full-time job. I also recommend one heavy-duty course (Statistics) and a required medium-duty course (Psychology) and an elective (something you like that is included in your requirements, ie, Art, Music, Philosophy, Poetry). It is important to keep in mind that you don’t want to be overwhelmed or overworked; you have to PASS the course to be reimbursed.
The company will reimburse employees at the conclusion of a successfully completed course; sometimes they reimburse as long as you pass the course; others have a stipulation similar to this:
• For an “A” grade, the Company will reimburse 100% of the tuition cost;
• For a “B” grade, the Company will reimburse 75% of the tuition cost;
• For a “C” grade, the Company will reimburse 50% of the tuition cost;
No reimbursements will be made for grades lower than a “C” grade and no reimbursement for Fail.
Certifications, Associates, Bachelors and Masters degree programs are part of reimbursement if they are business or job related. All courses, required and elective, which are related to an employee’s work or which lead to a business-related or job-related degree will be reimbursed. Most companies will reimburse as long as you PASS with ANY GRADE.
*Note: Many employees start with courses related to their present discipline or department they are working. Sometimes they are courses offered at a certification seminar or at a community college or even online. As the ‘student’ seeks additional courses, they may seek courses at a university or college. Once they matriculate, (admitted or accepted by a college or university for a defined degree course), the employer WILL accept variety of courses. The major will usually be business; and the minor may not be business-related, but part of the overall courses needed for the degree. Most companies do accept these unrelated courses as part of the degree program and reimburse for them.
Upon completion of the pre-approved course, the employee must submit a copy of the “Request for Tuition Reimbursement” form to the Human Resources Department, along with an official transcript of grades and proof of payment. Requirements vary among companies.
I hope I have encouraged you to jump-start on your continuing education program. It is one of the best deals your company is offering you. Personally, I took advantage of this opportunity and completed two degrees in 8 years; the cost to the company was $50,000. The out-of-pocket cost to me was reimbursed upon completion. It’s free education and you can’t get better than that. This is an offer you simply can’t refuse. Here is a partial list of well-known entities that offer tuition reimbursement opportunities: http://www.businessinsider.com/companies-that-will-pay-for-your-tuition-2014-6
Marie Coppola © Revised July 2016