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Up Your Salary, Value, Brainpower–-and Bill Your Boss

By Paul D. Rosevear
Provided by ClassesUSA.com

On the campus of California Institute of Technology (Caltech), not only are students advancing their education, so are employees like Andrew Shaindlin, the school's alumni director. The only difference is, Shaindlin, now pursuing a master's degree in education at Claremont Graduate University, is learning on the university's dime.
"Caltech gives all of its employees the option of getting reimbursed for higher education they achieve related to their professional responsibilities," he explains. "You don't have to study at Caltech, you just need to show how it is applicable to your position."

Give & Take
Tuition reimbursement programs like Caltech's are becoming increasingly popular at both educational institutions and corporations of all sizes. In fact, many companies even host employee seminars and workshops to impress upon them the importance of education. Why would companies be so eager to spend thousands of dollars they don't necessarily have to?

"Right now, we all know we're in a war for talent," explains Dena Wilson, talent manager at the insurance company Aflac, which offers tuition reimbursement programs for both undergraduate and graduate studies. "We want to attract and retain quality."

With the baby boomer generation growing older, the workforce is forcing companies to consider new ways to be competitive in their hiring offerings. Not only do corporations like Aflac pay for their employees' education, they also host "Lunch and Learn" sessions where employees are briefed on things like how they can get tuition reimbursement and strategies for improving their careers and standing out in the application process for new positions.

Currently, the vast majority of corporations are offering some sort of educational benefits, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. "Employers still agree that continuous learning and professional development are strategic tools for recruiting and retaining good employees," says Rebecca Hastings, information center manager for the organization, the largest of its kind in the world with more than 190,000 members. "Nearly 80 percent of employers provide tuition assistance. Education benefits are critical for organizations that wish to maintain an environment of continuous learning."

Education Needs Motivation
However, despite the growing desire for employers to educate their workers for free, still only a small percentage of the workforce is participating. According to a recent survey conducted by New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies (NYU-SCPS), fewer than 10 percent of employees at large New York City-area corporations take advantage of tuition reimbursement opportunities.

"Many people are so caught up day-to-day responsibilities, juggling things like work and children, that they are challenged with looking beyond today," explains Wilson. "They may say they plan to take advantage of it someday, and it's those people that need a push. Fear of failure is a large part of their reluctance, but as employers, we want them to feel comfortable and encourage them."

For Staindlin, it was only when one of his subordinates approached him to approve her application for reimbursement that he became fulloy aware of what Caltech's education offering entailed.
"I was inspired that she was going back to school," Staindlin recalls. "As her supervisor I could have told her not to do anything that would distract her from work. But the reality is, that sort of ambitiousness should be encouraged."

Jeff Coppage, a cell site technician for Verizon Wireless, decided to utilize his company's flexible reimbursement program to achieve his MBA. Full-time employees like Jeff receive up to $8,000 a year toward obtaining a degree; part-timers are eligible for up to $4,000.

"I love working outside and I love working with my hands, but most importantly, I love keeping my mind a step ahead," says the Strayer University graduate. "You don't always think of cell technicians with MBAs, but complex problems require complex solutions. I'm better at what I do because I kept pursuing my education."

Likewise, employers are recognizing and encouraging the motivation of their employees.

"It's a fact that fewer employees leave Verizon Wireless after they receive proper training," says Lou Tedrick, executive director of workforce development at the company, where nearly 15 percent of the workforce participates in their tuition reimbursement plan. "Our entire employee benefits package is a strategic tool for recruiting and retaining employees. Good benefits help companies compete for talent, particularly when the labor market is tight."

The Price Vs. The Perks
As for the particulars of tuition reimbursement, they change from organization to organization. In some instances, tuition is only funded for in-house coursework provided by the company itself. In other cases, like at Grantham University, employees can only be reimbursed for coursework taken at Grantham, however that privilege is granted to employee's spouses as well as immediate family discounts ranging from 30-40 percent.

But whether you're paying for it or not, there is still a price to pay for career advancement.

"I taught accelerated master's and bachelor's programs to this population for 20 years," says Nan Andrews Amish, consultant and strategist for The Big Picture Perspective, a company that provides business solutions. "Most degree programs offered in the evenings require 4-8 hours a class per week, 4-8 hours of homework, papers and team meetings each week. When added to commute times, the fact that many people work 50, 60, 70 hours per week already, the NYU-SPCS statistic of 10 percent is phenomenal really."

The Bottom Line
Ultimately, it seems that most employees know what they want, and with tuition reimbursement, they know how to get it.

"I knew that in order to get into the higher-level analyst roles I would need to get my master's degree," explains Heather Avery, a strategic planning analyst at AFLAC who completed her degree free of charge. "The results were immediate. The program took less than two years and I've seen three promotions since."

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