Save Money on College Tip Eight: Get a Job and Let Your Employer Pay for Your College Courses

Jeffrey Simons

Employer Pay for Your College EducationBy Jeffrey Simons

Today’s post is the eighth in a series of short tips on how to save money on college.

Today’s tip is . . .

Get a Job and Let Your Employer Pay for Your College Courses

Do you want to save money on college and graduate sooner? Here’s a powerfully simple strategy for you.  Get a job and let your employer pay for your college courses.

When it comes to lowering the cost of college, one of the best ways to pay less is to get someone else to pay your college tuition for you. And believe it or not, a large percentage of the companies in the United States have programs that do exactly that. They’re called Tuition Assistance Plans or Tuition Reimbursement Plans, and many employers use them to help attract talent, or improve their workforce, or even to improve their own bottom lines by reducing employee turnover.

Whatever they’re called, what they mean is that if you get the right job, your job will pay for you to take college courses.

In fact, according to the 2011 Benefits USA study by Compdata, as of 2011, 52% of companies in America offered tuition reimbursement benefits for their employees, a percent that’s been growing over the last few years.

Even the IRS is on your side with Tuition Reimbursement. They let you exclude up to $5,250 of educational assistance per year. That means that those benefits don’t show up as wages or other forms of compensation on the W-2 your employer provides you at the end of the year, and you don’t need to report them on your tax return.

According to the study, which analyzed 4,500 benefit plans covering 6 million employees, the amount reimbursed varies from $2,757 per year for employees in the hospitality industry, to $4,689 per year for employees in manufacturing and distribution companies. If you’re pursing a career in healthcare, you can expect $3,104 on average in tuition assistance benefits.

Pay attention to those numbers. Even the lowest one is more than enough to pay for an annual subscription plan at StraighterLine plus as many courses as you could possibly squeeze into that year. That’s right: even the lowest average employer reimbursement benefit is enough to pay for a $899 annual subscription plan and as many self-paced, online college courses as you could reasonably take at $49 per course (one time fee) while working full time.

Now, this isn't exactly free money. There are always strings attached to Tuition Reimbursement plans. There may be time restrictions on how long you have to work at your company to be eligible for a plan, or you may have to pay back your benefits if you leave the company within a certain timeframe.

Plans differ from employer to employer. Some may be degree-focused, such as an MBA or a healthcare certification. Some plans require that you take courses related to your job, or your industry. More than half of all employees who take college courses report that their major and their jobs are related.

Obviously working a full time job and going to college isn’t easy. In fact, it takes determination, motivation, and stamina. But a large portion of the StraighterLine student body is doing exactly that anyway. In fact, if you’re an adult learner, it’s likely you’re juggling a job and school… and maybe even a family.

If you are working while going to school, you’re not alone. About 25% of full-time students work full time. Approximately one third of working students describe themselves as “employees who study.” Most of them are adults who attend college part time while continuing to work at the jobs they had before starting college.

Getting your employer to pick up the tab for some, or all, of your college education is like a double reward. You get a paycheck and a diploma. (And if you’re eligible for a health plan, you’ve hit the benefits jackpot.)

It all adds up to one more way for you to lower the cost of college. And by taking StraighterLine self-paced college courses online while you’re working, you have the flexibility you need to fit your coursework into your busy life.

Now if only you could figure out a way to get your employer to pay for gas and groceries…


Jeffrey Simons has been in advertising since the mid-1980s, when faxes were “new technology” and portable computers were the size of suitcases. Now, as Storyteller-in-Chief for his own social media consultancy, JL Simons Marketing & Advertising Consulting, he gets to tell true stories to interested readers for deserving brands.

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