How to Use Your Employer’s Tuition Assistance Program in 4 Steps

How to Use Your Employer’s Tuition Assistance Program in 4 Steps

8 minute read

Maybe you’ve been in your current job for a while and you’re ready for management training. Or perhaps you’re thinking about moving from one department to another. Maybe you never finished college and want the opportunity to complete your degree so you can earn more money. There’s just one problem: the financial costs of going back to school. The solution? Your employer might pay for you to continue your education. Find out more about employer tuition assistance programs, including how they benefit both employers and employees, and what steps you can take today to take advantage of your company’s tuition assistance program.

What Is Employer Tuition Assistance?

A tuition assistance program enables employees to participate in college courses, professional development courses, skill-building classes, or other education opportunities, and have some or all of those costs covered by their employer. These programs are typically run through a company’s Human Resources department. In most cases, company’s will have a specific policy to govern their employer tuition assistance program, so any education opportunities will need to fall within those guidelines to be considered eligible.  It’s important to note that an employer tuition reimbursement policy is similar to other benefits you get from your employer in that it might have an impact on your taxes. According to the IRS, you can exclude a portion of your educational assistance benefits from your declared income each year.  That means you don’t have to pay income taxes on the money you receive toward your education, and you can use it entirely for tuition, books, supplies and equipment, or other fees and expenses.

How Employees Can Benefit From an Employer Tuition Assistance Program

Education by itself is its own reward. But how else can you benefit from your employer’s tuition assistance program? One of the biggest benefits of continuing education is how much more you can earn at your job. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with an associate’s (2-year) degree earned, on average, 19% more than those with only a high school diploma. And that percentage increases with every new level of college education.  Taking advantage of your employer’s tuition reimbursement program can help you keep your skill set current and relevant. This can come in handy when you ask for that raise or promotion, as well as increase your job security by making sure you remain a valued employee with essential skills.

More Companies are Offering Tuition Assistance

Tuition assistance programs are becoming the norm. In fact, it’s now considered one of the most common “perks” that companies offer new recruits with their benefits packages.  For current employees, companies offer tuition assistance to help bridge the “skills gap.” As advances are made in technology and AI, employers need their workers to keep up with the demand for brand-new or updated tasks. Financially speaking, tuition assistance is great for companies. A recent study showed that 22% of employees who voluntarily left a job did so for the sake of career growth. Tuition reimbursement programs help companies avoid the cost of looking for, hiring, and training new talent. A Lumina Foundation study of Cigna found that for every dollar the company spent on employee tuition assistance, they received back $1.29 (129%) in talent management costs, and their employees increased their earnings by an average of 43%. Given the ever-growing prevalence of employer tuition assistance programs, it may be something to consider when looking for a new job!

4 Steps for Using Employer Tuition Assistance

If you’re thinking about continuing your education to level up at your current company or simply boost your career trajectory, employer tuition assistance is going to be one of your best options. Let’s take a look at the steps you should take to make use of this benefit.

1. Find Out if Your Employer Offers Tuition Assistance

Before you can take advantage of employer-sponsored tuition assistance, find out if your company offers a qualified program. Your HR department would be the best place to start. If your employer does offer one, be sure to get a copy of the written policy. The number of companies offering education benefits has been growing over the last decade. There’s a good chance that even if your employer didn’t offer tuition reimbursement or a direct enrollment plan in the past, they do now. It’ll be worth your time to find out. As you do your research on your company’s program, make sure to find the answers to the following questions:

  • What is the employer tuition reimbursement policy at your company? Are there certain restrictions or requirements you need to be aware of? Does your employer pay costs upfront or will you need to request reimbursement upon course completion? To whom will you submit the request for reimbursement?
  • How does the policy work? Does your employer offer direct enrollment through their own system? Or do you need to go through a separate system and submit documentation?
  • What kind of courses are eligible? Undergraduate or graduate? Credit-bearing or non-credit bearing? Are online classes acceptable?
  • Is there a GPA requirement? What happens if you fail a class or must drop out?

When taking advantage of your employer’s tuition assistance program, pay attention to the fine print. According to the IRS, there is a list of services for which you can and cannot use your educational benefits. Your employer may also have additional requirements.

2. Find the Best Courses

Some employers may require that the courses you take be directly related to your job; others allow any courses; others still may require only business-related courses. It all depends on your employer and their policy. Your employer might work with approved college course providers to administer their employer-sponsored educational program. Verify if you need to sign up through your employer or if you can go to the course provider directly. Some employers also require a sign-off from a manager or supervisor. If that’s the case, he or she may be the one to determine if your courses are job-related, and therefore eligible for reimbursement. In most cases, you will need to notify and sign up for your employer’s tuition reimbursement program before you enroll at any institution of higher learning. Before you pay any tuition, verify that the courses you plan on taking are eligible for reimbursement.

3. Get the Most Out of Your Employer's Tuition Assistance Program

Once you’ve gained approval for your educational plan from your employer, you’ll want to maximize these benefits. You’ll want to know if the courses you are taking are eligible for college credit, and if so, if they’ll be eligible to transfer to another institution, should your educational needs expand.  Investing in college courses that let you transfer your credits, such as those that are ACE-reviewed and recommended, can help you maximize your educational benefit. For example, you can enroll in online college courses through providers like StraighterLine. With StraighterLine, the cost of taking 10 ACE-reviewed and recommended college-level courses and earning credit comes in around $1,500. That’s an equivalent course load to a full year of college at a fraction of the cost. Furthermore, you can transfer these credits to StraighterLine’s partner colleges such as Western Governors University, Excelsior College, Rasmussen University, Capella University, University of Phoenix, or one of our other 150+ partners to complete your degree.

4. Measure Your Progress

When you take advantage of your employer’s tuition assistance benefits, you’ll want to be sure you are getting a good return on your investment, and your employer will certainly want to be sure you’re making progress Check in on whether the courses you’re taking are pointing you in the right direction. If your education and your career trajectory start to diverge, it’s time to reassess the classes you’re taking. Additionally, with these new educational opportunities under your belt, think about taking on new projects at work, or ask for a chance to apply your new skills within a different area of expertise at your company.

Start Your Employer-Assisted Education Today with StraighterLine!

Online college courses like those from StraighterLine can be a great option to get started when making use of your employer tuition reimbursement policy. With lower costs and a lower risk than enrolling in a traditional college or university, StraighterLine can help you explore education options that can benefit your work and career for years to come. Contact StraighterLine today to discuss the many ways you can earn more money at work through college classes paid for by your employer! Chat online with an Enrollment Counselor, or call us at (877) 787-8375 to discuss your options.

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