Business Administration

The Art of Negotiating Company-Sponsored Tuition Reimbursement

The Art of Negotiating Company-Sponsored Tuition Reimbursement
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Noodle Staff May 10, 2018

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Paying for your education is overwhelming. While obtaining a graduate degree is a great way to plan for your future so you can advance in your career and make more money, is it worth it if you’re bogged down in student loan debt? If tuition is the only thing holding you back from furthering your education, you should consider pursuing employer tuition reimbursement. If you work for a company that doesn’t have a structured tuition reimbursement program, but you think they might be open to it, Noodle has some suggestions for you.

Below we will discuss how tuition reimbursement agreements are beneficial for you and how you can approach making the request. We will also discuss how tuition reimbursement benefits the employer.

What is tuition reimbursement?

Given that Americans currently have $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, tuition reimbursement is a great way to pay for your education. Tuition reimbursement is an arrangement that often involves a contract between an employer and employee where the employer pays for all or a portion of the employee’s education and the employee agrees to adhere to specific actions, such as maintaining a specific GPA or remaining at the company for a certain period of time.

Tuition reimbursement is a useful tool that benefits both employees and the companies for which they work, making it a two-fold investment. Your company is investing in you, enabling you to develop professionally or become more advanced in a specific skill. Your company is also investing in itself. That is, an investment in an employee is an investment in the company. In most cases, companies provide tuition reimbursement because the result will contribute to the company in some way.


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How does tuition reimbursement work?

Tuition reimbursement can consist of your employer simply paying for a few specific courses or, on a larger scale, a percentage of your overall degree. You can request that your tuition reimbursement be paid retroactively or up-front. If your employer wants you to show proof of completion or that you maintained a certain GPA, they may opt for retroactive payment. The agreement you make will largely depend on your company’s preferences. While some companies value general personal and professional development, others will only be willing to pay for educational opportunities that will develop a specific skill that has a direct connection to your job.

The benefits of tuition reimbursement are clear. You are getting someone to pay for your education! Taking it a step further, is tuition reimbursement taxable? Check out the tax benefits involved in tuition reimbursement.

If your company already has an employer tuition reimbursement program, all you need to do is initiate the paperwork with your human resources office. However, if this is not offered, you will need to prepare to make a special request. The level of difficulty in asking for tuition reimbursement really depends on your company. If your management is generally open about professional development, you may have a really good chance in getting it approved. Here are some ways you can prepare for this conversation.

How to ask for tuition reimbursement

Make sure it’s the right time. We mean this in two ways. Make sure your company is in a good place financially. If the past few quarters have gone really well, this might be a good time. Additionally, use wisdom in selecting the time to speak with your boss. If you have an enormous project going on and stress is high, you should just wait until the storm has past or you may not get a very positive response. There may never be a perfect time, but you can always use your best judgment and weigh the pros and cons.

Talk to other employees. Check around with your coworkers to see if anyone else has ever achieved tuition reimbursement with your company. See if they are willing to share their strategy and if they have any advice. Just make sure you aren’t violating company policies by discussing other employee benefits.

Come up with a plan. Be prepared for your discussion. This is not something you can decide to do at the last minute. You need to plan ahead and have a strategy. Come up with scenarios for how you think the conversation might go and be ready for negative and positive responses.

Set aside time. Set aside adequate time for this meeting. Sometimes you don’t want to be the one to add yet another meeting on the calendar, but in this case, it’s worth it to know you will have their full attention without distractions. You may even consider scheduling the meeting in a legitimate conference room to limit email and phone call interruptions.

Be professional. It’s normal to have positive working relationships with management and to even be able to joke around. This is actually a great thing that makes the workplace more positive and productive. However, this is a serious meeting. Think of yourself as pitching an investment opportunity. Put your game face on and be ready to show why you are worth every penny you are requesting.

Ask questions. Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into. Find out what would happen if you don’t maintain your GPA or if you have to drop out because of family obligations or illness. Make sure all of this is laid out in the contract you sign.

Tuition reimbursement negotiating tactics

Develop a specific narrative. Being prepared and professional will automatically increase your chances of getting approved. Prepare your thoughts, and before you meet with your employer, put together specific talking points. You should be prepared to present contract agreement samples so you can decide what will be the best fit in your situation. You can do this by speaking with HR or researching other companies that have tuition reimbursement programs.

Show them that you are dedicated. Unfortunately, this is one of those things that is hard to express in words because in reality, your dedication is displayed in your daily actions. If you don’t feel that you have accurately portrayed your dedication through your work ethic, you may consider taking a year to change this perception before making a request for tuition reimbursement.

Let them know you’re in it for the long haul. This is similar to dedication, in that, there is some ongoing action involved. You may not want to ask for tuition reimbursement on your first day of work. Someone who has been with the company for 2+ years may be in a better position. However, this is definitely an issue you can raise in your discussion. Making an investment in a person is a risk, especially for employers, because they immediately lose everything if you leave the company. This might be a good time to reiterate your five-year plan and how it includes your continued contribution.

Give them a clear return on investment. Are you going to study business analytics to fill that analyst vacancy they’ve had for over a year? Maybe you just want to take a couple of courses to learn the latest developments on SEO strategy. Whatever your nexus is, just make sure it’s there. This is the most important part of your negotiation — what’s in it for them? You need to have a strong answer to this question. For example, let’s say you are a dedicated five-year employee, and you are on track for executive management. The skills are there, and it’s the right time for you. However, maybe your company requires that all VP positions have an MBA. The company has two options. They could hire an outside person based on recommendations and a job interview and run the risk of failure and the loss of signing packages, onboarding resources, and several months of pay; or, they could invest in your education and promote you, someone they already know and trust, and are certain will be a great fit.

Prepare for questions they might ask. You know your company best, but here are some questions we put together that your boss may ask you during this meeting.

  • How is this going to help you do your job better?

  • How will this help the company?

  • Do you have specific short-term and long-term benefits?

  • How will you manage going to school and keeping up with your work responsibilities?

  • Why can’t you just pay for it?

  • Exactly how much are you asking for us to pay?

  • Why didn’t you negotiate this as part of your hiring package?

  • How long do you plan on staying with the company?

Be ready for a “no” and request feedback.

It’s possible you will get a swift decline. Do not take this personally. You never know if this is a topic that has already come up amongst the executive team, or if there are upcoming financial burdens of which you were not aware. However, although unlikely, if you get the sense that they are saying no for personal reasons, you may want to take this opportunity to ask for feedback. It’s always so difficult to receive constructive criticism, but if taken gracefully, you can rise above and show them you are able to make improvements.

Final thoughts on negotiating tuition reimbursement

There is a clear benefit to tuition reimbursement for both the employee and employer. You are getting an education without having to pay as much, or take on paralyzing student loan debt, and your company is developing an employee that will in turn contribute more to the company. If you are ready to negotiate tuition reimbursement, follow the steps above to increase your chance of approval.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


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