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Tips for Talking With Your Boss About Tuition Assistance: A Valuable and Often Overlooked Benefit

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Henry L. Doherty, an American businessman, once said, "Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study. Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life." With a growing number of adults continuing their educations every year, businesses are embracing this idea of lifelong learning.

According to the "Society for Human Resources Management 2003 Benefits Survey," 79% of employers provide educational assistance to employees taking college classes. The survey also found 72% of employers offer undergraduate educational assistance, and 69% of employers offer graduate educational assistance. Although the numbers show that most companies help pay for education, what do you do if your employer isn't among the majority?

For starters, don't be afraid to blaze the trail for tuition assistance at your company. Talk to your employer about your worth as an employee, your desire to improve your education, the merits of an education and, most importantly, the return on investment the company will get by improving you as an individual contributor. Present your case in a professional manner. Leave your divorce, kids, debt, and health concerns out of the conversation.



eLearners.com, the leading resource for connecting learners with online education, in its recently released "Guide to Online Education," has developed actionable steps to help you through a conversation with your company about tuition assistance. The six tips include:

1. Do your research.

If the company is doing well, and you can show how you have contributed to its success, your boss will likely be more open to discussing your request. Also, it will help you put into context the added value you can bring to the organization if you pursue your education.

2. Have a plan in place.

Know which school you wish to attend; the major, or area of continuing education, you wish to pursue; the exact cost; and the length of time you estimate it will take to complete your degree. Obviously, your boss may be concerned about the possible distraction school will be to your "day job." That's why you may want to look at flexible delivery models such as online learning. Additionally, most companies that provide tuition assistance only support those programs that are from accredited institutions. So, in your research you may want to consider including that element in your filters.

3. Make an appointment with your boss.

Start the discussion with your immediate supervisor. It is always helpful to have them on your side as a passionate champion of your professional development as you move up the chain of command or address tuition assistance with the human resource department.

4. Provide a deliverable.

A great approach is a memo-format document. Include the length of time you have worked at the company; your contributions, whether in revenue-generating or cost-cutting measures; and your responsibilities. It would be helpful to include a brief rationale for how this expenditure would benefit the company. Attach copies of financial documents detailing tuition and fees, course outlines you have printed from the website, and contact information for the school.

5. Communicate your commitment to the company.

Make your enthusiasm for the company known, indicate that you wish to stay, and assure your boss that your education will not interfere with your duties.

6. Remind your boss of the bottom line.

Not only is tuition assistance a morale booster and an excellent retention tool, it is worthwhile from a financial perspective. Your boss can expense it as a training cost.

If your company does not currently offer tuition assistance, these steps will be a bit more challenging. However, if you are successful, you will have established a path to success for yourself and set a precedent for other employees. If you are denied, don't be afraid to ask "why?" The answer may provide you with the fodder to prepare your case for the next go-around.

If you are a job-seeker, be sure to ask for tuition assistance as part of your offer; this will save you the hassle later. It is always easier to ask for something—more pay, more vacation days, more resources—before you accept a job. This is when you have the leverage to make requests, especially if you are entertaining other offers.

Finally, if you are one of the fortunate employees whose company provides a tuition reimbursement program, use it. According to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, less than 15% of eligible employees actually use their tuition assistance benefits. Tuition assistance is part of your compensation. If you don't use it, you lose it. And using it will give you the education you need to advance your career and achieve greater success.

For more information about tuition assistance and online learning options, log onto www.elearners.com.

About the Author

Andrew Gansler is the president of eLearners.com, a division of Halyard Education Partners, LLC, providers of the leading web service for connecting learners to online education and other distance-learning resources. Gansler has been instrumental in strategic planning and management, as well as the day-to-day operations of eLearners during a period of record growth and expansion. Prior to assuming his role as president, Gansler served as chief operating officer at eLearners.com, and prior to that, he served as a member of the eLearners board of advisors, where he provided guidance in strategic planning and overall business development.

Gansler came to eLearners with more than 12 years of management consulting experience. As a senior manager in Grant Thornton, LLP's management consulting practice, Gansler provided a variety of strategic business, process, and technology consulting services to middle-market and growing firms in diverse industries including real estate, manufacturing, government, and financial services.

Throughout his tenure at eLearners.com, Gansler has provided formal and informal advice and guidance to postsecondary higher education institutions in the areas of online marketing and recruiting strategies. He has been a featured speaker at a variety of education conferences focusing on adult and distance education and has presented at conferences hosted by UCEA, Sloan-C, NAGAP, and the AMA. He has also served as an advisor to the investment community, providing views on the current and future state of online higher education.

Gansler obtained his MBA, with distinction, in finance and information systems from New York University's Stern School of Business and a B.S. in industrial engineering from Lehigh University. He currently resides in Hoboken, New Jersey.
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