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Get Your Company to Pay for Your Learning

Get Your Company to Pay for Your Learning

By Susan Aaron | Monster Learning Coach

Sheepish about seeking reimbursement for your educational expenses? Don’t be. Companies wouldn’t offer to pay for your courses if they didn’t benefit from doing it. Sheri Mullin, HR director at Verilytics, Inc. explains that “having the most educated staff fulfills the company’s goals.”

Mary Rose of Sapers & Wallack, an HR consulting firm, says benefits such as tuition reimbursement help companies “remain competitive in the marketplace. They’re recruitment tools.”

Here’s a quick review of tuition and training benefits. There are no standard policies, so use this list to get a handle on what your company may offer.

Reimbursement Checklist

Percentage of Reimbursement: Some companies pay 100 percent of expenses, some only a fraction and some not a cent.

Grade Requirements: Many have standards, such as a B or better at the graduate level, or C or better at the undergraduate level.

Timing of Payments: Reimbursements may occur before or after you take a course. If there’s a grade policy, companies that have already handed over money will expect to get it back if your grade is not acceptable.

If they only pay after the course, you may have to initially fund school yourself. Bill Shaw, a law student at Suffolk University, reports: “My company will reimburse me after I’ve proven I’ve received B’s or better. I’ve got a year of tuition on my credit card!”

Subject Matter: Most companies expect your courses to directly relate to your job, but a few offer reimbursement for almost any kind of learning up to an annual dollar limit set by the IRS.

Type of Learning: There can be distinctions between degree courses and training. A course is often seen as an employee benefit, while a short training session may be a business expense. This difference affects approval processes and budgets. Also, some companies demand courses be taken at accredited institutions.

Limitations: There may be caps on yearly spending or the number of courses permitted per employee.

“If a company has a policy in place, getting education reimbursed may be as simple as following the company rules,” says Caroline Parker, an HR representative for Empirix. If there isn’t a policy in place or if your vision of education doesn’t fit company guidelines, don’t give up. Be open, flexible and ready to negotiate.

Steps to Educational Reimbursement

Equipped with this checklist, you can now focus on matching your learning goals with the company’s resources. Follow these steps to maximize the education benefits you may be entitled to.

Learn your company’s policies. Don’t just go ahead and take a course. Understand your company’s policies and get approval beforehand. Look for reimbursement rules in the literature you received when you were hired, on the company’s Web site or intranet or through a quick call to HR. Get written confirmation of any oral explanations of the rules.

Do your research. There may be many ways you can approach learning, including degree programs, training seminars, conferences and online courses. “Check to see if your company’s learning benefits include job-related magazines and books,” suggests Parker. Consult your coworkers. They may be able to give you company-specific advice and an all-important heads-up about what’s hot and what’s not.

Present your learning plan to your manager. He or she may have to sign off on it even if education is a promised benefit. Gauge how formal or informal this process should be. Be ready to explain: How your intended education will benefit your work. How you can handle both your job and courses.

If you’re denied, revise and reapply. If your employer doesn’t agree to fund your learning, reconsider your plan. Perhaps there’s a bargain you can reach. Instead of a college-level course, consider a course given by a professional organization.

Leverage your yearly review. Annual performance reviews should be a time to discuss your future with the company as well as past performance. Be sure to talk about the education you need to do your job better or to take on more responsibility.

Got a problem? Talk to HR. Your HR department’s duties include being an advocate for employees and a competitor for hiring the best talent. It’s in their best interest to build a satisfied team.

Choose a Job that Pays For Education

If education is one of your overriding goals and your present situation doesn’t offer the benefits you need, you may want to look for a new job. Licensed professionals, such as nurses or CPAs, should certainly check out education benefits before taking a job. “Some education may be involved in order to maintain their job descriptions,” reminds Mary Rose of Sapers & Wallack, an HR consulting firm.

Target the right companies. Check out company Web sites and call the HR departments before applying.

Consider company size. Larger companies are more likely to provide education benefits; they typically have more money and more opportunities for promotion.

Apply for the right positions. Most companies will only pay for education that benefits the job you hold.

Exploit your contacts. Ask your colleagues which companies have great benefits.

Work for a college or university. You may be able to take their courses. An added benefit to this method — you may not be limited to courses directly related to your job.

Consider firms with in-house training. While it won’t earn letters after your name, your next employer will appreciate the training’s practical nature.

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