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Persuade Your Boss to Pay for College or Grad School

5 tips to improve your odds of getting work to pay for school.


Although many employers cut back on tuition benefits during the recession, the recent rebound in the economy has made a few employers more amenable to supporting employees who want to take college courses or earn M.B.A.s or other work-related graduate degrees.

Graduate students who were able to persuade their bosses to pay their tuition despite the tough economy say these five tips can help other workers improve their chances of getting work to pay for school.

[Find more tips at this guide to paying for graduate school.]

1. Be patient: It can take more than a year to line up internal support, study for the GMAT, pick the right programs, and maneuver yourself into a position at work that is likely to win tuition reimbursement, says Jacob Zigelman, whose studies at the Wharton School's West Coast executive M.B.A. program were funded by his employer, Pacific Gas and Electric.

2. Document the benefit to the employer: Employers aren't eager to pay to improve their employees' chances of jumping to a competitor. So James Marsh, who's getting a full ride at Wharton's West Coast E.M.B.A. program from his employer, MonaVie, suggests "putting together a presentation about how this would add value." Marsh, the controller of the juice and weight loss product firm, says he comes back from classes "with new ideas. As I sit through different meetings, I bring a different perspective, a broader perspective, of implications of certain decisions. I also have new resources, either professors or classmates, who I can call with a question."

3. Commit to the company for several years: Marsh says he negotiated a deal for his employer to cover the pricey tuition at Wharton in return for his agreement to remain at the company for at least five years.

4. Remind employers about tax breaks: The IRS allows employers to deduct tuition reimbursement for up to $5,250 a year for each employee.

[Check out this guide to paying for college.]

5. Think about more than money: "There is plenty of room for negotiation on something like this," says Larry Schooler, a mediator for the city of Austin, Texas, who is receiving a partial subsidy for his classes at Nova Southeastern University's graduate program in conflict resolution. The money's nice, he says, "but I would really struggle without time off," especially since Nova Southeastern requires its online students to travel to its Fort Lauderdale, Fla. campus for classes each summer. If a company can't or won't contribute cash toward tuition, students can try to negotiate alternatives such as time off or comp time for class, study, or travel time, Schooler suggests.

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