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Will Your Employer Pay Your Tuition?

What You Need to Know about TAP (Tuition Assistance Programs)

Will your employer help pay your college tuition? If you are employee of a large corporation, and/or your field of study relates to a current or future position in the company, they very well might. However, despite the availability of such benefits for working professionals, only a small percentage of employees take advantage of TAP (Tuition Assistance Programs.) These programs are usually administered through the human resources department or are part of an employees benefits package. In addition to reimbursing college tuition and the cost of books, they can provide the opportunity to integrate desirable educational credentials with future career plans. More, students who receive TAP assistance from an employer can exclude up to $5,250 of those benefits each year (IRS Publication 970, Employer-Provided Educational Assistance).

Before deciding to take advantage of these benefits, however, students should understand the guidelines and restrictions companies can place on such programs. Often, tuition may only cover courses in the core curriculum, and then only in certain majors (for example, accounting, business, or finance.) If a student wants to take courses outside of the curriculum, they may need to provide proof the classes were required for the major. Additionally, if an employee discontinues the class, they may have to immediately repay the money to the employer while waiting for a refund from the university, if they are to receive a refund at all. Employers also differ in that some only provide benefits for graduate-level study. Be certain the benefits offered will cover all courses leading to the desired degree, and not courses leading to a certificate. Such courses often will not transfer into a four-year program as they are specialized or skill-based and don't satisfy the broader academic requirements.

The employee's grades may also be important. Companies might require that the student maintain a certain grade point average (GPA) to continue receiving the program benefits. The GPA could have an impact on the amount of tuition the employer will reimburse; for example, a company will pay 100 percent of tuition for a 4.0 GPA, but a reduced percentage for a lower grade point average. Students may also need to make the initial payment for the program upon enrollment, and be reimbursed by the employer later (quarterly or by the semester.)

Participation in the plan could additionally include the requirement that employees remain with the company a certain length of time after they complete the degree. If not, tuition benefits may need to be repaid. The employer may require that the program is finished within a certain a period of time. Students should ensure that the employers time frame coincides with that of their chosen university or school.

Venues of alternative credit may help accelerate the degree process and enable students to meet their goals with less strain on their finances and time commitments. Before choosing a college or university program, learn all the academic options. For example, colleges may offer credit through the CLEP (College Level Examination Program), or for life experience (portfolio assessment.) Also, find out if any courses are available through distance learning or the Internet. After noting all your options, you will be able to develop a feasible plan-saving both time and money.

Students do not need to complete a full degree program to take advantage of company reimbursement plans. Often they can arrange to take just a few courses for professional development; i.e., some companies will pay for training in Information Technology or other needed skills. Tuition reimbursement programs benefit both the employee and the employer. Investigate the opportunities your company offers. Your job can be more than your job—it can be an investment in your future.

For more information, please see the NCES report, Employer Aid for Postsecondary Education.

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