Making Your Case for Tuition Assistance

Two people having a conversation.

More than half of U.S. employers offer tuition assistance/reimbursement as an employee benefit, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2019 Employee Benefits Survey. If your employer is in this group, this is a great way for you to advance your education and career, often at considerable savings. It’s an excellent opportunity that, if possible, you should find a way to make the most of.

But what if your employer is among the other half who don’t offer tuition reimbursement? How can you convince them to help pay for your education? The key, according to human resources and career development experts, is to emphasize the benefits of furthering your education to the organization and its bottom line. Here are a few points you can mention in your conversation:

  • A recruiting edge. In today’s competitive job market, tuition assistance can be a compelling reason to choose one company over another, especially for younger employees who already have college debt. According to the Gallup report, “How Millennials Want to Work and Live,” 59 percent of millennials rank opportunities for growth and development as “extremely important” when applying for a job. That’s significantly higher than previous generations. 
  • A more skilled and loyal team. An investment in employee education is an investment in the company and its future. Skilled employees are better equipped to take on new challenges and assume more complex roles. These employees also are more likely to feel valued and engaged — two factors that help build loyalty and increase employee retention. Higher retention rates reduce recruiting and training costs. Equally important, an efficient, experienced team can boost productivity and revenue.
  • Potential tax savings. For employers, tuition assistance is a tax-deductible expense as long as the employee’s education is job-related. 

Prepare for the conversation

This will be an important discussion, so treat it as a serious business proposal. Arm yourself with persuasive information, including the advantages for your employer, as well as examples that relate specifically to your organization. Consider these approaches:

  • Look for jobs the company is having  difficulty filling and identify courses and programs that could enable existing employees to step up. 
  • Cite shifting business models or trends in your industry that will require employees to develop new skills. 
  • Point to online programs and other options that make it easier than ever for employees to advance their education while working full-time.

Be strategic

How and when you make your request matter almost as much as the request itself. Consider a strategy that includes the following:

  • Good timing. Schedule the conversation at a time when you and your manager or human resources representative can give this discussion the attention it deserves. If you’re in the middle of a big project, or the company is focused on an upcoming announcement, wait until things have quieted down. On the other hand, if you’ve recently had a significant win, or if the company is doing particularly well, it might be the perfect time to have the conversation.
  • A champion. Depending on the size and culture of the company, you might have to take your request directly to human resources. In that case, if you have a good relationship with your manager or supervisor, enlist them as an advocate. Perhaps they could put in a good word or agree to have you mention their support during your meeting with HR.
  • A personal pitch. Have a program in mind and describe how it will improve your ability to serve the company. Showcase specific courses, talk about the skills you will help hone and give examples of how those skills could increase sales, revenue, efficiency or other measurable results. Highlight features of the program that enable you to pursue your education while maintaining the same high level of performance at work. 

Despite your best efforts, you might not obtain your employer’s approval. Still, learn as much as you can from the experience. Ask what you could have done differently to get your company onboard and if your employer is open to reconsidering in the future. If your goal is to stay with the company, talk about your commitment to the organization and why you find your job rewarding. Be clear about your desire to continue to grow and develop — and talk about other opportunities to make that happen.

As a Clarkson grad, you have access to a full suite of services from the Clarkson Career Center at any stage of your professional life. William Jeffers, assistant director of professional and alumni career services, focuses exclusively on providing career support for Clarkson alumni and graduate students. If your goals include earning an advanced degree, Clarkson offers excellent graduate programs in business, engineering, education, health professions and the sciences. For more information, contact Graduate Admissions.

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