Does your company have a tuition reimbursement plan? Have you taken advantage of it? In most of the companies I’ve worked for, the money budgeted for tuition reimbursement all too often goes unspent. If you’ve been thinking about taking a class and updating your skill set, it’s time to stop thinking and enroll.

You’re competing with smart kids
Do you need motivation to update your skills? Keshwar, a student from Los Angeles, recently wrote: “Do you know where I can get financial assistance? I am asking this because I am only 17 years old, and I’ve been fixing almost every possible problem Win95/98 has to offer since 1997. My teacher spoke to me and said the best thing I should do is get certified, so I decided to look into it. Well, I found several schools that accepted me. I am planning to get certified for Windows 2000 and the four classes all add up to $4,500, and my father can’t afford it so I am asking you if you have any ideas.”

I wrote back suggesting that Keshwar first ask the school’s guidance counselor for a list of agencies that offer scholarships and grants. In addition, I suggested he try to get a job.

That’s right—I suggested that Keshwar write a resume with a brief description of his hands-on Windows experience and apply to an employer who will repay the costs of tuition for the Windows 2000 certification programs. Many companies are willing to pay tuition for qualified interns, part-time, and full-time employees.

Your options may be unlimited
A lot of people don’t take advantage of tuition reimbursement programs because they assume they have to take the class at a college or university. Double-check your employee handbook, folks—many companies will reimburse tuition for workshops, seminars, certification courses, and professional conferences. If you locate a source of additional training and education that will help you do your job better, chances are your company will reimburse you for the investment.

You pay, you pass, you get reimbursed
Many companies reimburse full-time employees for tuition based on a sliding scale. That is, for an “A,” you get 100 percent of your tuition reimbursed, 90 percent for a “B,” and 80 percent for a “C.” You bring in your report card and your receipt, and your company cuts you a check.

The downside is, of course, that you usually have to pay the tuition up front out of your own pocket. And you’ll have other expenses besides tuition that may not be reimbursed, such as transportation costs, books, and class materials. However, those costs are well worth what you get back in increased feelings of self-satisfaction and, hopefully, increased earning potential in your career.

What does the company want in return?
Most companies consider tuition reimbursement money well spent. After all, better-trained employees usually become more productive employees. However, before you accept that reimbursement check, make sure you know what your obligations are, if any. I’ve heard of some employers who require employees to commit to a certain period of employment following completion of tuition-reimbursed training. If you decide to leave the company that paid for your training too soon, you might discover that the tuition money has been subtracted from your final check.
If you’ve benefited from a tuition reimbursement program and would like to share your story, please send mea note .