The key to having your employer pay for your education is to convince them of the benefits to the company that result from your new skills. There are a variety of direct benefits of employer-funded education that you should point out to your HR manager if s/he is not already aware of them. These include increased loyalty, reduced employee turnover, increased productivity, ability to take on new projects and the opportunity to show leadership skills. (For related reading, also see Dealing With 10 Co-worker Personality Conflicts.)
Tutorial: Education Savings Accounts

The idea that higher education increases productivity was made famous by Gary Becker, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on "Human Capital Theory." This idea was further confirmed by Dr. Arnaud Chevalier in his brief entitled "New evidence that education does raise productivity." What these studies boil down to, and what you have to get your HR manager to understand, is that your successful completion of further education will impact the company's bottom line positively. You will be more productive, as these studies show, and you will be able to take on additional projects that you previously would have been unable to attempt. This will enable both you and the company to take on additional work and bring in extra revenue.

How Your Company Can Help
Many large companies have a partnership with a local college or university. This can enable very company-specific training that can be highly beneficial to both the company and the student.

Some companies will offer a scholarship to employees and their families to assist with higher education costs. This is usually offered as one of the benefits in an employee compensation package, and can be quite attractive. Typically this is a cheque given to the employee upon proof of enrollment.

Your company will also be able to take advantage of tax credits and deductions that come from funding employee education. So long as that education meets IRS guidelines and is accepted in your trade or industry, there should be no issues. Naturally you will want to consult with a professional tax preparer to determine the extent of eligibility before making a claim.

The most common form of assistance is a tuition reimbursement plan. For example Starbucks offers qualified employees up to $1,000 to help defray the costs of further education. The convenience store chain QuickTrip offers up to $2,000 for qualified employees. A reimbursement plan means that upon proof of enrollment (or proof of successful completion) your company will supply funds to support your educational endeavors.

Discussing Education Funding With Your Boss

1. Pick your degree/diploma or designation/certification
2. Pick your course(s) and your school/college
3. Create a list of ways your company will benefit:

  • You will add new skills to workforce.
  • You will be more productive and therefore able to increase company revenue.
  • You will be able to take on new assignments and generate additional revenue.
  • You will be able to take on a leadership role within the company.
  • Your degree/diploma will present a more professional image/prestige for the company.
  • You can mentor new employees and spread new skill set to other employees.

4. Anticipate questions or concerns that your HR manager might have. Try to answer questions in such a way that your answer leads back to a benefit for the company.

  • Concern: time away from work. Answer: Night classes or online classes will fit into your free time, which will add new skills and increase productivity.
  • Concern: company expense. Answer: Tuition may cost less than hiring and training new employee with the degree/diploma/certification. Your education will make money for the company.

5. Practice your Q&A and be prepared. Take your notes with you into the meeting with your HR manager.

6. If your employer refuses, don't give up. Try again next quarter.

Education Contract With Employer
If your employer does agree to reimburse your tuition ,you may be asked to sign an "education contract". You will want to read this document very carefully and discuss with your HR manager any clauses that you either don't understand or don't agree with. Do not sign if you disagree with the terms of the contract. (For more, see Should You Head Back To Business School?)

For example, you may be asked to commit to staying with the company for a certain length of time. The company does this because they don't want to fund your training for another company (i.e. they pay for your education and you leave for a new job with another company). Know what you want and if you feel the time commitment is acceptable (perhaps up to a year), then sign the contract.

You will also want to know how the tuition will be refunded. Will the company pay your tuition directly to the university or college or will they give you a cheque?

Other questions include: will they pay you immediately or at the end of the education contract time period? Will you be required to maintain a certain grade point average, and if so what happens if you do not meet this requirement?

Another important question is what happens if you have to stop attending classes? This could be due to problems of a personal nature, health issues, family matters or other circumstances that suddenly arise and prevent you from completing your course or degree. Will you be forced to repay the tuition that has already been paid?

The Bottom Line
The benefits of employee-sponsored education to you are obvious - you get the education without being out of pocket for tuition and other expenses. The benefits to your company will (perhaps) need to be made obvious to your boss. You can point to studies showing how those companies that fund employee education and training gain from increased loyalty, reduced turnover and increased productivity. Upon successful completion of your training you will be able to take on additional projects and bring in extra revenue. As an added bonus you will be able to show off leadership skills and improve company morale.

For additional reading, also check out Keeping Up With Your Continuing Education.

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