Graduate Education

5 Questions to Ask About Your Employer’s Tuition Assistance Benefit

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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.

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To find out if your employer offers a tuition assistance program, talk to your manager and your Human Resources/Benefits office. If they do offer this benefit, ask if there is an intranet page or printed flyer with more detailed information. Specifically, you will want to ask:

1. What is your employer’s maximum annual tuition assistance benefit?

Many employers offer $5,250/year, since it aligns with the benefit amount that the IRS allows you to exclude from your taxable income. But employers may offer more or less. Find out from your employer this amount, and compare it to the cost per credit or course in the programs you are considering. This will give you an idea of how many credits/courses you can take that will be covered annually by your employer.

2. How long must you be employed before you can take advantage of tuition assistance?

Many employers require that you work for a specified amount of time before you are able to use your employer’s tuition assistance benefit. A minimum tenure of six months to a year is typical.

3. What is your employer’s approval process to use tuition assistance?

Often, employers require approval of your tuition assistance request before you start your program, so make sure you understand and follow the approval process before incurring any tuition expenses.

4. How does your employer provide the tuition assistance benefit to you?

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Most employers use a “tuition reimbursement” model, in which the employee pays the tuition bill up front, and the employer reimburses the employee upon successful completion of the class(es). But some employers offer to pay your tuition bill to the college or university directly, saving you the up-front expense.

5. Will I have to pay my employer back for tuition reimbursement if I leave my job?

Some employers will require you to pay back some or all of the reimbursement benefit you used towards your education if you leave soon after completing your program.

By asking these five important questions and getting answers from your employer, you should be on your way to making a decision as to whether or not you can supplement the cost of a graduate degree, and in turn, whether you will pursue graduate education.

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, especially if the program you are pursuing is directly related to your current or future work. Even if your employer does not have a formal tuition assistance program, it’s worth asking if they will help you to earn a degree or other credential that can make you and your employer more successful.

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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