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Tuition Reimbursement: What It Is and Who Offers It

Tuition reimbursement is a benefit that many companies offer in order to help employees pay for all sorts of higher education degrees and programs. It might sound like tuition reimbursement is too good to be true, but believe it or not, this is a real benefit that more and more companies are offering these days. 

The first step to taking advantage of tuition reimbursement opportunities is to learn how they work and who is offering them. So, let’s dive into all the details together! 

Also see: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool

Tuition reimbursement at a glance

Tuition reimbursement, also called tuition assistance, is an employee benefit in which an employer contributes a set amount towards the education of an employee. The tuition reimbursement amount can vary widely based on your employer and the cost of your program. 

Requirements for tuition reimbursement

Tuition reimbursement is considered an employee benefit. As a result, each company will have their own set of requirements for who is eligible to claim them. If you know that your company offers tuition reimbursement, ask about what their requirements are. Some companies only offer benefits to full-time employees while others extend them to part-time employees as well. 

Some companies have stricter requirements for tuition reimbursement than others, but don’t let strict requirements scare you. Tuition reimbursement is a great benefit and it’s worth your time to pursue!

Field of study

What you can study through tuition reimbursement is usually dictated by two things. First, employers usually want employees to stay with their company, which means they might only approve educational programs that are related to the field you are already working in. This isn’t true for all employers, but it isn’t uncommon.

Second, companies commonly partner with certain universities to offer tuition reimbursement programs, which means that your degree options may be limited by what that university or college they are partnered with offers. 

Each employer will be different Even if you can’t study exactly what you would like, there is still value in obtaining higher education in other areas. You never know where a degree may lead you! 

Commitment to work

Some employers will require that you stay on for a set period of time after you obtain your degree. Tuition reimbursement is an investment that companies make in developing their workforce. In order to see a return on their investment, they need a guarantee that you will continue to work there. These agreements can range between months and years. If you do not fulfill your work requirement, you may be required to repay your tuition reimbursement.

Related: How to get tuition reimbursement by working at Chipotle

How much money can I receive from tuition reimbursement programs?

There are no fixed limits on tuition reimbursement. Employers can contribute however much they want. Many employers set their limit at $5,250 per year– the maximum amount they can deduct from their taxes. However, employers who are especially motivated to train their workforce may be willing to contribute more.

Employees who receive over $5,250 per year in tuition reimbursement will have to pay taxes on the excess funds. If you receive a large reimbursement, you should prepare for a large tax bill at the end of the year.

Related: Guide to financial aid for part-time students

Can I use tuition reimbursement toward any educational expenses?

The answer to this question varies based on the company you’re considering. The easiest way to find out the answer is to reach out to your HR representative if you work at the company currently. If you are considering a career there, try talking to someone who works there to find out the answer.

Some allow you to put tuition reimbursement money towards any educational expense. This could include certificate programs, bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees, master’s degrees, you name it. 

How many companies offer tuition reimbursement

Over half of companies in America offer some form of tuition reimbursement. It’s an employee benefit that is becoming increasingly popular. So, we can only expect to see that number increase in upcoming years. Here’s a list of some major companies that offer tuition reimbursement:

Tuition reimbursement will look different at each of these companies. For example, tuition reimbursement at Apple would most likely be for a degree to further a tech career. But tuition reimbursement for a cashier at Home Depot may be for a career unrelated to retail.

Also read: How to find online jobs for college students

Two main types of tuition reimbursement

Typically, tuition reimbursement falls into one of two categories. The first category offers tuition as a form of incentive and the other is offered as a form of professional development. Let’s go over the definition of each category below.  

Tuition reimbursement as an incentive 

Tuition reimbursement offered to employees in retail, food-service, and other fields that may not require a college degree is meant primarily as a benefit to improve the quality of life for employees. It attracts employees to the job and encourages them to stay on.

The program of study that employees pursue is often unrelated to the field they work in. Generally, in cases such as these, employers are more flexible as to the education courses you pursue. For example, you can be a waiter studying bioengineering, with the ultimate goal of changing to a different career field. 

Tuition reimbursement for professional development 

The other type of tuition reimbursement falls under the umbrella of professional development. This is more common for jobs where the employees already have an undergraduate degree. These jobs may subsidize you in pursuing a graduate degree or certificate. 

Oftentimes, in these cases, your company is willing to pay more, as they are investing in your education as a way of bettering their company. You’ll be able to study a field that helps you improve the way you perform your current duties, or that helps you step into a new role at the company. 

Next steps for students

If your current employer offers tuition reimbursement, reach out to your HR department today to find out more. It’s a good idea to be proactive with tuition reimbursement. Learn what programs are supported by your employer and how much they can contribute. 

If you don’t qualify for tuition reimbursement…

If you are currently unemployed or your employer doesn’t offer tuition reimbursement, you have options. Many companies do offer reimbursement benefits. Try looking for positions at any of the companies listed above, or do your own research. Larger companies are more likely to offer tuition reimbursement, but you could try local businesses too.

Good luck securing a tuition reimbursement! Reimbursement programs are an invaluable resource in the task of paying for college. And don’t forget to look for other forms of financial assistance as well. Scholarships, federal aid, work study, and loans can all help you to pay for your education.

Frequently asked questions about tuition reimbursement

Does tuition reimbursement disqualify me from financial aid?

Tuition reimbursement does not disqualify you from other forms of financial aid. So, you are still eligible for federal, state, and institutional aid. You can also apply for private scholarships or any other form of aid.

Can I fill out the FAFSA if I get tuition reimbursement?

Yes – students who receive tuition reimbursement should also fill out the FAFSA. The FAFSA can qualify you for federal and institutional aid.

How do I apply for tuition reimbursement?

You should check your employee handbook and benefits package to learn about the application process. Typically, you can apply through your Human Resources, or HR department. Remember, tuition reimbursement can go by many different names, such as educational assistance programs, professional development programs, and tuition assistance programs.

Can I get tuition reimbursement for any field of study?

Some employers offer tuition reimbursement for any field of study. But others limit eligibility to fields of study related to the employee’s position.

It’s also worth noting that some programs allow you to pursue a college degree at any accredited institution, whereas others only offer professional certifications related to your field of work.

Can I deduct tuition reimbursement from my taxes?

You can deduct up to $5,250 of tuition reimbursement from your taxable income per year. You’ll have to report any reimbursement over $5,250 to the IRS. Typically, you’ll end up paying taxes on the additional funds.

How does tuition reimbursement work with student loans?

Tuition reimbursement does not affect the amount of loans you are able to take out or limit your ability to receive them. The only effect it has on student loans is to allow you to take out less debt, since more of your tuition will be paid for by your employer.

Why do employers offer tuition reimbursement?

There are many different reasons an employer offers the benefit of tuition reimbursement. One is that the coursework an employee takes might make them better at performing their job. This may allow the company to promote them to a higher role, which is generally better for the company than going with an outside hire.

Another reason is that companies hope to attract talent to their employee pool. If they offer this benefit, more people will be willing to work for them, so they will have a stronger workforce.

Will I receive the tuition assistance upfront?

Some companies pay for their employees’ educational programs up-front, whereas others reimburse them once the employee has submitted proof of completion of the course. Ask your HR department to confirm the details on your specific tuition reimbursement benefits.