While recognizing the direct linkage between an advanced degree and high pay, working professionals often express a reluctance to move forward given the monetary implications. Identification of available resources is a must to offset the costs of higher ed.
Also, businesses recognize the value of high-performing employees. Onboarding is a lengthy, and often costly process, and the essential knowledge accumulated over an extended period is an investment of both time and money for the employee and employer. As a result, education programs have become widespread for the following three key reasons: talent retention, loyalty, and upskilling.
It makes sense to bolster the skills of those already on payroll rather than expending the energy and dollars to outsource new skill sets.
Employer Financial Support for Your Master’s
There are a variety of ways to get a company to pay for a master’s degree. First, determine within your organization whether they offer employee tuition assistance. It can often be either a) an easily accessible program or b) a benefit that is not widely publicized, so be sure to ask the right people the right questions to find the proper information.
While many companies offer attractive benefits in education, these perks may not be actively promoted. That being said, companies will often have a budget earmarked for training.
Follow these three steps to uncover your company’s possible employee tuition assistance:
- Number one on the “to do” list is to ask colleagues about programs offered.
- Ask fellow employees to share their personal experiences, especially colleagues who have been with the company for a long period.
- Schedule a consultation with an HR manager, and find out what is currently part of employee benefits.
Not every company offers the same kind of tuition assistance, so you will likely come across one of these four types of financial assistance at your organization:
- Tuition Reimbursement
- Tax Advantages
- Employer Contract
- Authorized Payer
Tuition reimbursement is when an employer pays an employee back for all or part of their tuition costs. According to SHRM’s (Society for Human Resource Management) 2019 Employee Benefits Survey, 56% of US employers offer graduate tuition assistance.
While there are identifiable industry standards, every organization is unique. Some employers generously cover the full cost of education, while others commit to a portion. The following two cost scenarios are commonplace:
- Per course: calculated as a percentage or flat dollar amount per course.
- Yearly allowance: upon reaching a maximum, the student will need to cover the difference.
Companies are permitted a $5,250 tax education benefit per employee each year. Also a plus, employees can expect that their tuition reimbursement amount of up to $5,250 will not be included in their W2 forms. And remember, expenses are not restricted to tuition only. These include all related materials such as books, supplies, and registration.
An employer contract is designed to protect the company from an employee taking advantage of the company’s education support benefits and then quickly moving on to a new company. For this reason, the agreement will address the following typical concerns and stipulations.
- Inability to complete the program due to extenuating circumstances (injury, illness, tragic event)
- Tuition payback or penalty in situations of voluntary/involuntary termination
As with all legal agreements, it is important to read through the entire document and ask pertinent questions before signing. Government agencies will use what is termed as an SF-182 “Authorization, Agreement and Certification of Training” form. Regardless of the type of contract used, know that the signing of an employer contract is standard practice when education benefits are provided.
Many HR companies put together an Educational Expense Agreement when a tuition reimbursement plan has been established.
The Authorized Payer designates the person responsible for paying the tuition balance. It also establishes permissions to monitor bill statements and review transaction history. This usually happens once all agreement(s) have been signed, and it becomes time to discuss literally “who pays.” Company protocol will dictate whether the student or a designated employee assumes the bill-pay rights and associated responsibilities.
How to Come Prepared
- The first step is to check the company manual or website for readily available information. Whether or not an education assistance program already exists, it is still necessary to confer with HR and/or stakeholders.
- The second step is to fully explore the company’s policies and procedures and gain approval.
Some employees choose to introduce their training goals during a performance review; others may find the completion of a successful project as the opportune time. Show initiative by bringing up questions that are likely to be top-of-mind for an employer:
- Potential concerns (work-study balance, time off)
- Mutual benefits of cutting-edge expertise
Be encouraged by the fact that educational assistance is prevalent and rising amongst small and large companies throughout the US. Regardless of the unemployment rate, the need for retaining top talent is considerable.
Finally, when appealing to stakeholders, be reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Tuition Support at Engineering for Professionals
We have worked with all-sized companies in the US and abroad to facilitate company-assisted higher ed programs. Nearly 75% of our students receive financial support to pursue a master’s degree from EP.
There should be much optimism in pursuing an advanced degree supported by employer funding.
- Tuition reimbursement programs are widespread, increasing, and part of a current trend in employee retention initiatives.
- With a better understanding of the tax advantages, standard employee agreements, and support possibilities, it should be clear that earning a graduate degree is a win-win for both employee and employer.
Equipped with the tools and tips on when and what to share during exploratory educational benefits meetings, now is exactly the right time to propel your graduate degree plan. What should you do next? Reach out to admissions with any and all questions pertaining to how to get a company to pay for your master’s.