Can Your Employer Pay For Your Education?

If you’re thinking about going back to school, chances are your first thought centered around how much it would end up costing you.

For many, the cost of college impedes them from reaching their goals.

One way to alleviate the cost is to investigate whether or not your employer offers tuition assistance or reimbursement, a benefit that can make getting a degree attainable for many Americans. In a 2015 study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 83% of the polled organizations give some kind of tuition assistance or reimbursement.

Tuition reimbursement or assistance, an agreement between employer and employee that sets conditions on how and when an employer pays for the employee’s tuition, is generally only offered by well-established companies due to cost. Under tuition reimbursement, an employee pays for the cost of a course up front, and a company will pay back that cost to the employee after completing a course, provided the person met the organization’s criteria (e.g., reimbursement based on the grade earned). With tuition assistance, organizations may help with the cost of tuition; they also may require employees to submit grades and reimburse the company if they receive an unsatisfactory grade.

According to the SHRM study, less than 5% of employees take advantage of tuition reimbursement or assistance when it’s offered to them. Even though the benefit isn’t being utilized as much as it could be, 29% of companies plan to increase the emphasis in the next five years.

Additionally, 4% of companies offer student loan repayment, which is part of the early 2017 proposed expansion of Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code. Section 127 permits employees to dismiss up to $5,250 per year from their incomes in educational assistance for the certificate, undergraduate or graduate levels. A company offering benefits of tuition assistance and/or student loan repayment is able to not only find highly talented employees, it’s also able to keep those employees, which allows both the employer and employee to benefit from Section 127.

Getting your employer to pay for some or all of your education may be tough because employers won’t want to invest that money unless they have a really good reason, so before presenting your case to them, here are some tips.

  • Do your research. Some employers may not feel that online education is as beneficial as a brick-and-mortar education.
  • Show statistics from reputable sources.
  • Present information from a regionally-accredited college. Typically, employers won’t pay for courses from a school without regional accreditation, and most college and universities won’t accept credits from an unaccredited or nationally accredited school.
  • Mention cost as a factor.
  • Discuss the flexibility an online degree presents. You won’t typically be required to leave work early for a night class, or be at an 8 a.m. exam.
  • Demonstrate how the degree and/or student loan repayment will help the company. How will the company benefit by retaining you? For example, a 2016 analysis of Cigna’s program by Accenture indicated that for every $1 invested into the program Cigna would save $1.29 in talent management expenses.

Some companies that already offer educational assistance benefits include UPS, Publix, Wells Fargo, Comcast, Starbucks, Verizon and Bank of America.

Asking for and obtaining these benefits isn’t as easy as just submitting your tuition bill, however. Some common requirements for tuition reimbursement include the following:

  • Be employed in good standing for at least six months.
  • Obtain at least a B average in a course.
  • Show how the degree benefits your current job.
  • Promise to stay with the company for at least two years after degree completion.

If you want to find out what educational assistance benefits you may be entitled to, contact your company’s human resources department. They can guide you through the correct process.

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