How To Pitch Tuition Reimbursement To Your Employer
By Will Erstad on 10/05/2020
You can’t rest on your laurels to excel in a rapidly changing world. You know this, and you’re ready to take the initiative and expand your knowledge base. Whether you’re looking to learn an entirely new skill, deepen your expertise or help future-proof your resume, you know that additional education is the key.
Pursuing additional education is an investment of both your time and money, and smart planning involves finding the resources to help you make this investment work. While assistance in the form of grants, subsidized loans and scholarships are all excellent options to seek out, don’t underestimate the potential of your current employer to help. Tuition reimbursement programs and other education benefits are offered by many organizations to boost the skills of their established employees and to provide opportunities for growth and career development.
So how do you navigate this conversation with your employer? Well to start, you’ll want to have your ducks in a row before raising the topic. We’ve asked Rasmussen University Director of Career Services Elizabeth Lintelman to help provide her best advice for anyone looking to earn education benefit buy-in from their employers.
7 Tips for gaining tuition reimbursement or assistance buy-in from your employer
Want to put your best foot forward when seeking education assistance funding from an employer? Keep the following in mind.
1. Research and understand current employer policies
Fools rush in, so first take the time to determine what, if any, education benefits or tuition reimbursement programs your employer currently offers. Some organizations may have well-established programs with very clear requirements and conditions, while others may be more informal. No matter what the case is with your employer, it always helps to understand the context of your request. Is this a common request? Have other employees received education assistance benefits? If not, your employer will also need to consider the administrative costs that come with implementing a program.
Lintelman says a great place to start looking for this information is within your employee handbook or with the human resources department. That said, it’s likely best to speak with your manager first before turning to HR with questions.
“If this information is not easily accessible, it’s best to start the conversation with your manager as they will likely need to approve your request anyway,” Lintelman says. “You do not want your manager being caught off guard if you head to HR first to have this conversation.”
2. Have a clear goal in mind
If you’re asking for financial support from anyone—whether it’s your mom, a friend or your employer—they need to understand the plan. Instead of leaving your answer at “going back to school,” take the time to research the specific programs or subjects you’d like to pursue.
“Before asking for reimbursement, you need to be able to articulate what you want to accomplish, how this educational pursuit will help you reach that goal and what value it brings to the organization,”
Additionally, it helps to provide a rough timeline of how long you intend to be in school. It never hurts to show you’ve done your research and have given thought to what a realistic goal for completing your education may be.
3. Put the investment in context
Your job arrangement with your employer is always going to be transactional to some extent—you do this work and get paid that amount. A request for education benefits can change that balance, so you’ll want to be able to put that request in context. “What’s in it for us?” will be a natural question on the mind of your employer. Will this new learning create a new skill set your organization is missing? Does this education open up potential advancement opportunities within the organization? If at all possible, try to quantify the potential impact as well.
While your conversation should ideally focus on how your personal growth via education can benefit the organization, it can help to keep in mind some of the other factors that can weigh in your favor. For one, reducing employee turnover can make offering an education benefit more appealing. It can cost a lot of money to hire and train new employees and knowing that you’d be less likely to leave is a potentially overlooked plus for employers. Another under-the-radar factor that may weigh on your employer is the ability to highlight employee success in education assistance programs or as a recruiting tool for attracting new talent. Finally, there may be taxation benefits to employers who offer education assistance programs. Understand that asking for education assistance funding isn’t quite as lopsided as you might perceive it to be—employers can benefit as well.
4. Ease concerns about balancing work and school
College education is a significant time commitment. Your employer may have concerns about your ability to balance both work and school and the potential for scheduling conflicts. Fortunately, many programs are now designed to help accommodate the needs of working adult students. Online courses, flexibly scheduled competency-based education formats and having the ability to scale back on the number of courses completed each term can all help put some of those worries to rest.
Lintelman says having a strategy for how you’ll be academically successful can be just as important as the research you’ve done comparing academic programs. “Come prepared to the conversation with a well thought-out strategy of how you intend to be successful in continuing your education outside of your working hours,” Lintelman says. “This is not only good to be able to articulate to your manager, but also an equally important conversation to have with friends and family as your recreational time will likely be more limited for a while.”
5. Know the terms of any assistance offered
Depending on the organization, there may be some strings attached to the benefits you receive. For example, some employers may require you to sign a contract that states you’ll be required to pay back the benefit if you don’t stay on at the organization for a set amount of time. Others may tie support to maintaining a certain grade point average. Whatever the case may be for your employer, it’s good to know up front and acknowledge that you’re serious about meeting those conditions.
“Understanding these requirements ahead of time is important so that there are no surprises down the road,” Lintelman says. These requirements can also serve as motivators—for example, if you know your employer won’t pay for a class you’ve failed, you better figure out what you’re going to do ahead of time to set yourself up for success.”
6. Be thoughtful in your approach
Asking for education assistance benefits is a big conversation, so don’t take the initial approach lightly.
“You must be confident in your approach with your manager,” Lintelman says. “You really need to show that you’ve put thought, time and research into why you’re asking for the organization to invest in you and your education.”
Take the time to “practice” this conversation with a friend or family member—let them play the role of your manager while you make this proposal. This will help prepare you for addressing any potential pushback or tough questions along the way.
7. Be open to other forms of assistance
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that not every employer is going to be able to afford or justify covering all or a large portion of your education expenses. But that doesn’t mean you’re completely out of luck and that your employer can’t help with smaller measures. Maybe they’re willing to provide a one-time bonus, assist with book fees, or are willing to give a little more flexibility with your work schedule. Every little bit helps, so it’s worth seeing what they might agree to as a compromise.
“Perhaps your employer does not want to commit to a full education program—but are there professional certifications you could obtain in the meantime? This can be a great way to get your feet wet in expanding your knowledge while still demonstrating your focus on advancing your education,” Lintelman says.
Above all, Lintelman advises anyone seeking employer education assistance to be patient, persistent and professional throughout the process. After you’ve raised the issue in a professional way, be patient—decisions like this don’t typically happen overnight.
“One ‘no’ should not close the door to your education journey,” Lintelman says. “Tuition reimbursement and employer education benefits are one way to fund your education journey, but they are not the only way!”
Focus on your future
Continuing your education is a big step in life—and big steps tend to go best when properly planned for. To do this well, you’ll want to take the time to research your education options and make a plan. This plan isn’t just for how you’d handle the academic workload but also how you’d make it work financially—whether your employer is willing to help or not.
Starting a conversation with your employer about tuition reimbursement or other forms of academic assistance can be a little intimidating, but if handled well, it can be a winning proposition for all involved. As you begin making your plans, first start with the Rasmussen University Employer Benefits page—from there you can find out if your employer already has an agreement with Rasmussen University that could save you even more.