In today's highly-competitive global economy, getting a job is the first step on the ladder to success in personal finance. Climbing the corporate ladder involves more than just putting in your time and waiting for your turn at a promotion. Being prepared to advance at your present job, or at one you might have in the future, includes a commitment to ongoing education. In recognition of this, some employers offer tuition reimbursement as an employment perk.

If your employer is willing to pay the bill to make you more marketable, it's an opportunity that you shouldn't pass up. Taking advantage of an employer-sponsored tuition reimbursement is like getting a raise twice. First, you benefit from all the money spent on your tuition, and then you benefit from being a better educated worker, which often results in increasing your value in the marketplace. (For insight into how a better education can result in a bigger payday, read Invest In Yourself With A College Education.)

A Two-Way Street
While some employers recognize the benefit of having an educated workforce and are willing to pay to help their employees obtain that education, these employers generally recognize that their competitors value educated employees as well. To avoid footing the bill for employees who boost their credentials and then move on to greener pastures (the competition), most employers require employees to make a commitment to the company in exchange for having their tuition paid.

Most often, the commitment an employer requires takes the form of a short contract. The following are examples of contract arrangements:

  • The employee agrees to work for set period of time after receiving reimbursement.
  • The employee pays the cost up front and receives reimbursement after completing each class or semester.
  • The employee must maintain a certain grade point average (GPA) to qualify for reimbursement.

If an employee terminates employment prior to meeting the commitment, repayment of tuition reimbursement funds is often required. It might be due in as little as 30 days, and legal action may be taken in the event of non-payment. If there's any chance at all that you might change employers during the course of your studies, be prepared to repay the money.

How to Get Started
If furthering your education while somebody else pays the bill sounds like a good idea to you, it's time to conduct some research. Start by looking through your firm's employee handbook. If you don't find anything there, check out the company website. The benefits section usually provides details about any tuition reimbursement programs, some of which pay for tuition only, while others pay for books and tuition. If neither the employee handbook nor the website has what you need, try the human resources (HR) department. If none of those sources has what you need, it's time to talk to the boss.

Asking for Help
If your manager tells you that the firm does not offer a tuition reimbursement program, there's no harm in suggesting that the company start one. Even if it's only done on an exception basis, your employer might be willing to cover some or all of the costs of furthering your education.

If you discuss this topic with your manager, be prepared. First, choose a curriculum that is relevant. Although a software programming firm is unlikely to pay for medical school, a broad-based degree in business can be applicable to nearly any employer. Second, highlight the benefit to the company. Emphasize that the program will take several years to complete, and that you are willing to stay for at least two years following the completion of your last course. Point out that paying for your tuition guarantees your employer a loyal, hardworking employee for multiple years, and a better educated employee after the program is complete. (Find out if an MBA will keep you competitive in Should You Head Back To Business School?)

If you are committed to higher education but your employer doesn't offer a tuition reimbursement plan and your best efforts at changing that policy fail, there's no reason to give up on your goal of self improvement. You can start a job search with the express intent of locating an employer that will cover your tuition expenses, or you can shoulder the burden yourself. Numerous loan programs are available to assist aspiring students. Do the research and follow your dreams.

Can you go to college without going broke? Find out how in Five Ways To Fund Your College Education.