Employers may not seem the most obvious choice to go to for tuition and education assistance, however employers are one of the leading providers for education programs and education assistance for their employees. Employers provide education assistance in a number of ways:
* Direct pay tuition assistance: The employer pays up front for the course, certificate, or degree program. The employee has no out of pocket expense.
* Reimbursed tuition assistance: The employer pays for the course, certificate, or degree program after the employee has successfully completed the program. The employer may pay after each course or only after the certificate or degree is completed.
* Educational/Professional Development travel assistance: The employer may pay for travel expenses related to travel to educational programs including courses at distant institutions or conferences/conventions.
* Time off without having to use vacation/personal days: If the employee needs to rearrange their schedule to make time for education, the employer may provide time off with pay. In addition, if the student is pursuing a distance education course or program but has to travel to campus or a residential education requirement the employer may allow the employee to attend without using vacation time. Employers may also provide time off without the need to use vacation time to attend college visits with your dependents.
* Direct Pay or Reimbursement for education supplies and tools: The employer may purchase or provide textbooks, supplies, or tools such as computing equipment.
* On the Job Training: This is training provided to the employee by the employer while the employee is working. Many employers have developed comprehensive training programs that mix classroom and experiential learning. Some employers have arranged with local community colleges to provide credit for the completion of such programs. If this is not the case with your employer, then prior learning assessment at a college or university may be an option to receive credit for on the job training.
* Assistance for spouses and dependents: Some employers will even provide educational assistance for the spouses and dependents of their employers. This may include tuition assistance for private elementary or secondary education as well as assistance for postsecondary education.
* 529 College Savings Program: The employer may offer a college savings program as a part of their benefits package. As a part of this program, the employer may match contributions made by the employee into the program.
While many employers provide comprehensive details on the education assistance they provide, some either provide no details, particularly if it is a small business, or would be willing to do far more if asked. This is particularly true for employees who are pursuing education in a field of study that would help them in their present position and if the employer believes that supporting the employee’s education will cause the employee to continue with the organization for a significant amount of time after the course, certificate, or degree program is completed.
In exchange for supporting education, many employers require some benefits in return. These may include any number of things, but typically include one or more of the following:
1. The employee will seek education at an institution that is of high quality – often demonstrated through the fact that the institution is accredited by one of the regional accrediting bodies.
2. The employee will earn a certain grade in the course or a certain grade point average in the certificate or degree program. This requirement varies widely from employer to employer and may require the employee to earn a certain grade in every course. In contrast, if the employee is completing an entire degree program they may only be required to earn a certain grade point average.
3. The employee may be required to stay with the organization for a certain length of time after completing the course, certificate, or degree program. This may be a standard length of time (such as one year) regardless of the length of the education pursued or it may be a length of time based on the length of the course, certificate or degree being pursued.
4. The employee may be required to give back to the organization in the form of in service or one-on-one training for other employees.
If your employer is willing to provide educational support for you, your spouse, or your dependents, it is important to get the details of that support in writing, particularly if beginning a lengthy degree program. Even if the employer currently offers tuition assistance or other education benefits as a part of the regular benefits package it is important to discuss your educational goals with your employer and ensure that these benefits are not going to be discontinued after you have started the program. It may be beneficial to write an agreement between you and your employer – particularly if your employer is providing benefits that are not documented as part of the regular benefits program.
Even if your employer is not willing to provide educational benefits in the form of those above, every employee learns skills on the job which may be documented and used in order to earn prior learning assessment credit at a college or university. It is important that employees maintain accurate and comprehensive records on their own of training they complete on the job, new skills they gain on the job, and how these skills were gained. Whenever possible, maintain examples of work completed as a method of demonstrating the achievement of objectives for prior learning assessment.