As the cost to pursue higher education continues to rise, more and more students are seeking innovative ways to avoid potentially crippling loans. Employer tuition reimbursement and tuition assistance plans allow degree-seekers to work and build their resume while simultaneously receiving a financial boost to help pay for grad school. In this guide, learn more about specific companies that offer tuition help, how to balance work and school and common requirements to qualify for funding.
Balancing the demands of work while also seeking an advanced degree may at first seem like a recipe for disaster, but with commitment and planning it can be done. According to a 2015 study released by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, approximately 76 percent of graduate students work 30 hours or more while enrolled. According to higher education admissions expert Joshua C. Rosenthal, working while in school is actually an advantage for grad students who want to enhance their marketability for the future. “One of the best ideas an individual can have in order to sharpen their industry knowledge, skill set and acumen is to pursue a graduate-level degree while working,” he says. He points out several benefits that students considering this path should be aware of:
“There are so many options full-time professionals can choose from. Weekend classrooms to hybrid models allow flexibility to all professionals to sharpen skills, increase their critical and analytical thinking, and create a new network.”
“While working full time and pursuing a graduate degree, you are able to apply and practice industry principles, methodologies and theories within your working environment.”
“As your level of academic learning increases, your quality of work increases due to applying the principles you learn in graduate school.”
“You will begin to learn new theories and methodologies that your organization does not use and, in return, you become more valuable as an employee due to your new knowledge.”
“You will be able to apply your professional experience to the classroom. This allows you to experiment with new ideas, receive critical feedback from your professional peers, and collaborate with other professionals working within the same industry or outside.”
While the benefits outlined above apply more generally to all degrees and career aspirations, students seeking MBAs while working may derive even more specific value. Some of those include:
Many companies offer tuition reimbursement to workers pursuing MBAs in exchange for continuing at the company for a certain period of time after graduating. Students should review specific policies of their organization to learn whether this is an option and whether it makes sense for their future career plans.
In addition to meeting and getting to know fellow students pursuing similar end goals, MBA programs frequently invite high-powered business leaders to speak to students and share their experiences in the work world and tips on how to succeed. Building professional relationships with these speakers can pay off later in your career.
In addition to mandated coursework, many MBA programs allow students to take advantage of supplementary certifications, field work and training seminars. Even if you already have a job, participating in these experiences can help further build skills and expand networks.
It’s no secret that MBA programs rely heavily on real-world experiences and case studies to convey business concepts and principles. Students working full time while studying have the advantage of being involved in actual work scenarios that they can present and work through with the theories and methodologies being explored in class.
Although nearly 60 percent of all employers provide some type of tuition reimbursement, it’s rare to find one who pays for everything. When reviewing companies to work for, look for those that offer the most generous reimbursement plans, but don’t be surprised if you still need to pay for part of it.
Remember that money is only one part of the overall equation. “I don’t believe students should solely rest their decision in finding an employer based on tuition reimbursement,” says Rosenthal. “Make sure you consider other major factors – such as working conditions and overall happiness – while making your decision.”
Read company mission statements to get a sense of their priorities and what they want from workers. “When an organization offers a tuition reimbursement plan, it truly means they value the development and potential of their employees,” says Rosenthal.
While some companies provide reimbursement to any employee, others require them to have already spent a few years at the organization, to hold a specific position or to pursue a specific degree.
Even if a company doesn’t currently offer tuition reimbursement, you may be able to convince management to help out if you sell yourself effectively. Make a strong case about how you’re a valuable part of the organization, and how the knowledge you will gain can contribute to strengthening the company.
Some states allow employers to receive tax breaks if they pay for the educations of their employees. After checking to see if your state allows these breaks, provide the necessary documentation to help sway your employer.
Whether it’s through LinkedIn or a local, in-person organization, connect with as many MBA alumni as possible. In addition to sharing information about the programs at various schools, some of these alums may have convinced their employer to provide financial help for school and be able to give you tips.
Companies change their policies regularly, and both established and startup organizations may decide to provide tuition reimbursement in order to stay competitive. With this in mind, the most successful students regularly research their options and seek out companies through online research.
Even if a company doesn’t mention tuition reimbursement on the website or in literature, it’s okay to ask if they can provide any help in exchange for what you bring to the table.
If an employer is hesitant to provide assistance for a full degree program, consider offering a compromise and asking them to contribute to a few graduate courses related specifically to your job responsibilities. This could provide you an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of their investment, and help them see how a full degree could provide value to the organization.
While specific tuition benefits vary wildly by company, thousands of organizations provide tuition assistance and tuition reimbursement plans to make grad school a more feasible option for their employees. The list below highlights a small handful of such companies; students should conduct additional research to find organizations focused on their interests.
Many colleges and universities provide tuition assistance for employees, though benefits tend to vary by school. Some allow students to take a certain number of credits per term, while others provide a percentage discount. The University of Kansas provides just one example of what interested learners should look for when researching this option. As an added bonus, many higher education institutions also provide tuition programs for the dependents of employees, and some maintain relationships with other schools that offer discounts as well.
This national security organization offers up to $7,500 of tuition reimbursement each calendar year and allows employees to complete two courses per semester. These funds can be used to cover tuition, books and materials, CLEP exams, registration costs and laboratory fees. Of the $7,500, up to $5,250 of these funds are provided tax-free. Students should speak with a company representative to learn more.
In 2017, this global shipping company provided $31 million in tuition support to their employees. Full-time workers can participate in the tuition assistance program, which awards varied amounts to each student. Even part-time workers can participate in the Earn & Learn program, which provides up to $25,000 through annual installments of up to $5,250 – all of which is tax-free.
A great option for students interested in pursuing degrees related to engineering and technology, the technology manufacturing company Intel covers up to 100 percent of the cost of degree, with additional funds earmarked for books and materials, registration costs and laboratory fees. Student workers also benefit from on-site seminars, free tutoring, the Intel Education Service Corps and free Microsoft software.
Regardless of how long they have been employed by the company, individuals working at this multinational consumer products organization can take part in the company’s significant tuition reimbursement plan. The organization reimburses 80 percent of all costs related to tuition and approved fees, with a lifetime cap of $40,000. Applicants to this program must plan to pursue a degree that either relates to their current position or the next role they hope to take in the company.
While the companies highlighted in the previous section provide tuition assistance and reimbursement to students pursuing various academic paths, those reviewed in this section cater to degree-seekers who want to work towards an MBA.
One of the world’s largest consulting firms, Deloitte provides up to $10,000 annually in reimbursements for approved MBA programs. Individuals must work for the company for two years before applying for assistance; graduates often return to senior positions with the firm.
With a focus on serving defense and industrial organizations, Raytheon works extensively in weapons and military supplies. Aside from providing other perks such as relocation support, continued training and mentorship, the organization provides up to $10,000 in tuition assistance for each year an employee is enrolled in an MBA program.
This automobile manufacturer supports students furthering their education at all levels, including pursuing an MBA degree. Applicants must have been employed with the company for at least three months when they receive funding, and may receive up to $6,000 each calendar year. Up to $400 each year is allowable to cover textbook expenses.
This leading financial institution endeavors to attract talent through its commitment to continuing education. The institution provides reimbursement of eligible tuition expenses of up to $5,000 annually. The organization also provides ongoing opportunities for professional development and training while employed.
A major player in the banking sector, Bank of America offers tuition assistance of up to $5,250 annually to workers interested in pursuing job-related courses or degrees. Employees must have been with the company for at least six months.
Receiving help to pay for the rising cost of tuition can be an attractive perk for employees, but it’s also important to remember that many companies have requirements in exchange for providing assistance. We asked higher education expert Joshua C. Rosenthal to share some of the most common requirements in today’s workplaces. In addition to those outlined below, students should do additional research on individual companies to understand unique requirements and get a fuller picture of what to expect.
“In the majority of cases, employees may need to be employed one full year at the organization before they can use education benefits,” Rosenthal says. While this isn’t the case at all institutions, students should check before committing to a company as this could delay their grad school start time.
“In some cases, organizations will only allow education benefits for specific degrees, usually pertaining to their position or to the organization’s needs,” says Rosenthal. If this is the case, degree-seekers should either find a company that has no degree requirements or one that focuses on a topic they want to study at the graduate level.
“Some organizations will dictate and provide a list of which universities/colleges their employees can attend due to an established partnership between the organization and the institution,” he says. “Organizations can receive a discounted tuition price for their employees as long as they attend a school on the list.” If you’ve already been accepted to a specific institution or know you want to attend one, it may be best to steer clear of these companies.
“In some rare cases, organizations may ask the employee to sign a non-compete contract while earning their graduate degree or for an estimated time afterward while still with the organization.” Students should ask potential employees about these and any other special or unusual clauses.
While some students seek out new companies to help cover the cost of their educations, others are already employed and want to stay where they are. If the organization doesn’t provide any tuition reimbursement or assistance programs, it can be a dilemma for prospective students — but there are steps to take that may convince an employer otherwise.
Does your current employer seem to value professional development and continued growth? Are other employees presently enrolled in a graduate program — even if they’re not receiving employer funding — and receiving positive support from the company? If the culture seems to encourage these types of pursuits, it’s much more likely that the company will at least consider the idea of offering some financial assistance.
Before investing too much time in the process of getting your employer to pay for grad school, have a frank conversation with someone who has the power to make such decisions, or who can raise the prospect to someone who can. If the company completely shuts down any conversations, it might be best to look for other funding options.
When creating a plan for presenting your request to the powers-that-be, consider the financial structure and specific implications for the company. Try to find out if funding would come from your department or from a general, company-wide fund. With this information in hand, you can better tailor your request to show how earning the degree will benefit the department and/or organization.
After assessing company culture and talking to relevant decision-makers, the next step entails formally asking for financial assistance in writing. Prospective students should create a list of all the benefits the degree will provide to the company, including knowledge of new processes and methodologies the graduate will be able to apply to the job. The document should also request information in return, including how long the organization would require you to work there in exchange for tuition assistance; if a non-compete is required; and circumstances in which the money must be paid back. Specific details regarding these criteria can be negotiated as the process moves forward.
After allowing a reasonable amount of time for managers to review the formal request, set up a meeting to have questions answered and gauge how the company wants to proceed. If they decide to move forward in providing tuition assistance, a formal agreement should be drawn up and signed by both parties. If they don’t, consider whether a compromise exists or if it’s better to move on and look for another employer or funding source.
Associate Director of Admissions
Saint Mary’s College of California’s Graduate School of Business
A. There are many questions students should ask. These include:
A. No, it is extremely unreasonable to expect a company to pay for all of graduate school. In the past, organizations used tuition reimbursement to keep employees and invest in their workforce. However, with education costs increasing on an annual basis and with a strong economy, organizations do not see a real reason to provide 100 percent or even 50 percent tuition reimbursement. It is becoming rare that organizations are offering these types of tuition discount benefits. Today, organizations are only providing their employees the $5,250 per year for tuition reimbursement that allows a tax benefit.
If organizations are offering 100 percent or even 50 percent reimbursement, employees may have to sign a (non-compete) contract while studying or stay on with the organization post-graduation for a period of time that both parties have agreed upon.
A. Individuals who work full time should really research their options for a flexible program that allows them to work full time and attend graduate school. There are plenty of options for the full-time employee to choose from, whether it is weeknights, every other weekend on campus or a hybrid platform (50 percent campus/50 percent online).
Prior to considering graduate school, consider the time investment you will be putting into your studies. A great rule of thumb is to multiply a course credit by two. So if a course is three credits, expect to have six hours of outside time for studies. Remember, it is only a rule of thumb; it will vary due to course rigor and content. Look at your schedule now and see where you waste time. Individuals who work full time and go to graduate school are masters of time management. Everyone has time to study, whether it is after dinner, before a social event or after the children have gone to bed.
Students should also understand that sacrifices will need to be made from time to time in order to have success. Surround yourself with individuals who are in graduate school or have graduated; they are your biggest cheerleaders outside of your family and friends. Your classmates will keep you motivated, but also will be able to identify your ups and downs as you move through your education.