The Hidden Benefit of Going Back to School

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — While many can't wait to get out of college when they're in their mid 20s, many now are hoping to get back in to further their careers when they enter the workforce.

The only problem can be paying for it.

However, more and more companies and corporations are seeing the benefit of trying to send employees back to school to further their education — while also fulfilling their needs. The most recent update last summer to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education showed a total of 14.5% of graduate students received financial aid from their employer.

"Companies that have this plan generally have good interest from their employees in it," said Jay Titus, director of academic services for EdAssist, a provider of tuition assistance management services. "However, the motivation is always different depending on the employee."

Federal law allows companies to provide employees with up to $5,250 in tax-free benefits each year to cover undergraduate or graduate courses. Employees do not even have to qualify for the money. On average, companies that participate in such programs offer around $5,000 per employee, although amounts vary — especially depending if it is for an undergraduate or graduate degree.

Titus said most employees who take advantage of the benefit do so for a variety of reasons including:

  • they want to fulfill their degree
  • they are seeking a new job, possibly at a new company
  • they are seeking a promotion at the company where they currently are employed

According to a survey conducted by Bersin & Associates in late 2012, 71% of U.S. organizations offer tuition assistance to their employees. The study also found, contrary to popular belief, the majority of employees who participate in a tuition assistance program did not leave their company in search of a better job. Actually, companies participating in such a program said it provided a "high value," and 92% said their participants were likely to stay with the organization.

"The general belief is participants will leave and look for a better job, but typically we found the majority stay with the company they are at," said Titus, whose firm works with 116 companies that have assistance programs.

Titus said one of the most important things for both the employer and the employee to think about when considering going back to school is how education fits into that person's life. Many people who work full time may find it difficult to set aside a few hours a day to go to school or study, especially if they have families.

About 50% of employees who go back to school go back to traditional brick-and-mortar institutions, while the other half seek out online classes that more easily fit into their work schedules.

"Most companies understand education is rapidly changing and understand there are quality online schools and programs," Titus said. "Regional accreditation is important for online schools, but most companies understand that online doesn't mean subpar."

Titus added the most important thing that concerns companies is educating their workforce — not necessarily where. He said industries such as healthcare, insurance and financial services have to keep their employees abreast of changes in their fields and sending them back to school is a great way many companies are finding.

With Baby Boomers retiring, there is a gap in the workforce and many companies see adult learners filling that hole.

"They have to replace these skills, fill that gap," he said. "Sending someone back to school is a practical solution to that problem."

—Written by Chris Metinko for MainStreet

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