According to a 2012 Society of Human Resource Management survey on employee benefits, 58 percent of organizations offer graduate educational assistance such as tuition reimbursement. Some employers pay all the costs of a master's degree; others make co-payments or other contributions. As the saying goes, there is: "no such thing as a free lunch," and you should consider any conditions imposed on graduate-study assistance before signing up for a program.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Employers that fund graduate study can create advanced internal skills without having to hire additional staff. This kind of benefit also builds loyalty with employees and may improve retention rates. Employees are able to enhance their education, skill sets and career paths without having to fund study, or can do so at a reduced cost. There is, of course, always the chance that you'll leave the organization after graduation. So, some employers set conditions to minimize this risk.
Educational Assistance Options
Some organizations will reimburse the full cost of a master's; others will pay a certain percentage of costs. Some pay up to the limit set by the IRS for educational assistance benefits. As of 2013, up to $5,250 a year can be set aside as a tax-free benefit for an employee; additional payments may be taxed. Other resources such as books, expenses and study days may or may not be given, depending on the employer's policy. If your company does not have an assistance program, you have nothing to lose by asking if it will contribute, especially if you can prove a business advantage.
Employers may only fund qualifications related to their business sector or employees' jobs. They may also want a say in where you study. Some also limit funding to certain levels of staff or target areas where a graduate degree will bring a perceived benefit. You may need to achieve certain grades, paying your own tuition bills up front and asking for reimbursement at set times depending on your GPA. In some cases, fees work on a sliding scale; the higher your grades, the more you'll get back. You may also have to sign an agreement to refund some or all of your tuition if you leave the organization within a certain period of time after graduation.
Studying for a master's while you are working is a big commitment, even if your employer pays all your tuition fees. Some of your assistance may also be taxable if it exceeds IRS limits. More women are getting graduate business degrees, and this could significantly improve your job and salary prospects. Sadly, women still fall behind a little here. A GMAC study of MBA graduates states that female salaries increase by 51 percent compared to 54 percent for men, and men get twice as many job offers.
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