Part 1: How to Find Employers Who Will Foot the Bill
Whether you are considering pursuing a graduate degree to get your foot in the door, take your career to the next level or just to satisfy a desire for lifelong learning, you are faced with a big decision. Graduate school is a commitment to yourself and your future, and it also requires a substantial commitment of time, effort and money (especially money). With so much of your time and money on the line, why not look for an employer who's willing to help foot the bill?
Why Employers (Will or Should) Pay
Employers who support their employees continued education do so for many reasons. Some see the opportunity to expand their organization's intellectual and organizational capacity, some see the opportunity to reward a good employee, some are purely after increased employee retention, and some see a tax write-off. Whatever their reasoning may be, it makes sense to take advantage of every last dime available. Good employers realize that no matter how they attract highly-educated talent, they have to pay for it. In many instances, it can be cheaper and more beneficial for the employer to support you through school than to replace you with someone externally who has their graduate degree. Of course, typically employers are going to be looking for you to take courses related to your job or their business. MBAs are one degree that typically fit any employer (it is a generalist degree by nature, though many programs have started adding specialist tracks). Graduate business degrees were the 2nd most popular degree with over 143,000 in 2004 according to the NCES. Education was first. Do you wonder why education was probably first? Most schools will pay for their teachers to go back for Masters Degrees. Likewise, teachers typically get an automatic pay increase once completing their degree.
What Employers are Willing to Pay
Employers who have programs to help you get your degree typically call these programs continuing education or tuition reimbursement programs. Traditionally, you pay your tuition up front, then they pay you back later. More progressive employers will develop cohorts and pay the tuition up front for you (that's a concept Pfizer has used in the last few years within their accounting department and also means ZERO out-of-pocket expenses for you). Some employers have pre-established limits, such as they will reimburse "up to this dollar amount" (Paychex, for example), or restrictions on what kinds of courses you can take/degrees you can pursue (you may have to prove relevance to the requirements of your current position, or how you expanding your core competencies will benefit the company). You can expect most employers (though not all) not to cover the cost of your books and materials, but that cost can be kept minimal through some strategic spending on your part, compared to tuition costs.
Finding an Employer that is Willing to Pay
Below are several strategies you can use to target employers with these programs. (If you have no desire to change employers, but want to persuade your current employer to reimburse your tuition, click here to read Part II: How to Get your Employer to Foot the Bill.) Of course, every strategy will not work for every industry or every prospective employee, so be sure to choose your strategies based on your target industry and where your comfort level lies.
Why You Can Feel Good About Expecting an Employer to Pay
As you compare your options for potential employers, keep in mind that your skills and capabilities make you a valuable commodity, and that gives you negotiating power when it comes to tuition reimbursement as a benefit. If continued education was not on your mind and you were comparing two employers, you would certainly want to work for the one that provided a 401K with employer match, health insurance, and paid time off as opposed to the one who didn't. Educational programs are exactly the same as any other benefit ֠once you find an employer who offers it, don't hesitate to ask for it. And remember rule #1 in negotiations ֠NEVER, NEVER, NEVER leave money on the table!
Watch for Part II: "How to Get your Employer to Foot the Bill"