Returning to school is often a necessary step in advancing in your career. However, enrolling in courses on top of a full-time job is a difficult decision to make. Are you ready for that lifestyle transformation? One of the biggest concerns is, of course, how to pay for that additional education. Luckily, there are many employers who will fund educational expenses to help with the cost of attendance. Yet, it’s most likely up to you to make that request of your employer.
If returning to school is important to you, then getting clear on your goals and preparing to pitch your boss is necessary.
Why going back to school may benefit your employer
It’s important to be 100% certain on your goals and do your research about the programs where you wish to enroll. Are the skills that you will gain from these additional studies skills those that will help you be more successful in your current position? Is there a specific qualification that you need in order to advance in your career? Your job is to ultimately convince your employer that their investment in your education will benefit the company.
Businesses know that employee retention is crucial to a company’s success. Training new employees is costly and failing to give employees opportunities for growth simply pushes them to seek opportunities elsewhere. Your boss knows that the company will benefit from having experienced loyal employees who can grow as leaders, take on additional projects, and bring in more revenue for the company.
If we understand this, we know that your employer has already invested in you. They’ve trained you and they know that your success is directly related to the success of the company. You’re simply asking for an additional investment in your education so that you can offer even more to your employer. It’s a mutually beneficial situation, but it’s upon you to communicate that.
Get specific: What skills will you gain from this additional educational experience? How do those skills tie directly into the work that you do for the company? Is there a specific position you’d like in the company? What are the requirements or expectations for someone in that position? Why should your company invest in this specific educational endeavor?
Don’t forget, you’re surrounded by resources. If you want to return to school because you think the skills you gain will help you obtain a senior level position, reach out to the person who currently holds that senior level position. Find out what their educational background is. Ask what skills they see as necessary in being successful in that position. Figure out what classes they wish they had taken in order to be more successful. This information will help you prepare a pitch that’s grounded in the reality of the company.
Educate yourself: how do educational benefits work at other companies?
This is why many employers offer educational benefits programs. The most common programs are tuition assistance programs for employees and family members. In the United States, employers can provide up to $5,250 per employee toward tuition tax-free, thus many companies in the states like United Parcel Service (UPS) and Chipotle have chosen to offer tuition assistance. Other businesses simply offer support in the form of training schemes or funding allowances. Meanwhile, some larger companies have partnerships with local universities.
Do your research to see if your employer already has an education benefits program before making a request. If you’re sure that they do not, prepare to pitch to your boss. Knowing that many other companies already offer tuition assistance helps your case.
Prepping the pitch for your boss
Undoubtedly the most stressful part of this is actually asking your boss to fund your education. But if you’ve done your research, are clear on your goals, and know the ins and outs of the program you’d like funded, you’re in a good place to make a strong pitch.
The most important things to remember are:
It’s a selfless ask: your goals align with the goals of your boss. Your success is your boss’ success. Funding your education will only make you more loyal and excited to put the new skills you’ve learned to work to benefit you and your company.
You are a valuable asset to your company: your employer has already made an investment in you and they do not want to lose you.
An investment in you is an investment in the longevity of the company: employers know the benefit of having employees develop as leaders. The skills you learn you can later teach to your colleagues and mentor new employees.
Employers are most likely to fund educational asks that:
Are directly related to the work you’re doing.
Are part time --they do not want to lose you as an employee.
Are seen as a good financial investment for the company --upskilling current employees is often cheaper than contracting a new employee.
Be prepared during this meeting. Practice pitching your key points. Prepare a presentation or at the very least bring your notes with you --you do not want to miss key information. Know that you and your employer are on the same team and your success is shared. Don’t let a no discourage you --you’ll learn from the pitching process and can try again in the next quarter.
Signing an educational contract
If your company agrees to fund your education, they may ask you to sign an educational contract. It is extremely important to read this document because the funding may be contingent on you earning specific grades or on an extended work contract with your current employer. In short, know what you’re agreeing to. Look for language surrounding:
Grade requirements: are you expected to maintain a specific GPA or grade in order to continue receiving financial support?
Failing to complete the program: what happens if you fail to complete the educational program for reasons such as illness, an opportunity in a different city, or other personal issues? Will you be expected to pay back the funds once granted to you?
An extended work contract: what does your employer expect from you while you’re studying and after completing your academic program?
Payment for the courses: is the payment partial or complete? Will you pay upfront and be reimbursed or will your employer pay the fees directly? Will your employer also cover expenses such as books or other supplies?
Time commitment and flexibility: will you be working during the duration of your studies? Is your employer open to you missing work for exams? Will your employer allow you to prioritize your studies?
These are all important things to take into account while making the decision to accept funds from your employer. Remember, it’s a negotiation; you can make alternative requests of your employer and make your case for what would actually grant you a stronger educational experience.
This contract is also a document to keep you safe. If you know you’re going to need time off during exams or want to be able to dedicate more time to your studies, make sure you’re also clear with those needs.
Think of all the possibilities
Getting your education funded does not mean strictly returning to college or getting a masters degree. This could be enrolling in an online course, getting CPR certified, attending a two-day academic conference, or a variety of other opportunities that promise education - even if they’re not met with a diploma. Maybe it’s easiest to start small and demonstrate to your boss that you're up for the challenge.
Get ready to work!
Studying while working is a huge commitment. It’s intellectually demanding and will most likely mean making sacrifices to your current lifestyle. If your company does invest in you, they are expecting a return on their investment. Be prepared to study hard and demonstrate all that you’ve learned to your employer. It’s an exciting opportunity for personal growth and the investment from your employer will only leave you feeling more respected as an important member of your workplace.