What is Tuition Reimbursement?
One of the benefits of being a current teacher who wants to pursue their master’s degree or post-master’s certificate is that many school districts offer tuition reimbursement benefits. Tuition reimbursement for teachers is an employment benefit wherein your school district may pay for all, or a portion of, the tuition costs for completing your master’s or post-graduate degree. This is a double bonus for you, not only would you often qualify for pay raises and a higher salary for completing your degree, but your school district would pay for it too!
How Does Tuition Reimbursement Work?
Now, before you get too excited, it’s important to check what types of benefits your district offers, how to qualify for them, and what you need to do to apply and keep them. So here is tuition reimbursement explained:
Each school district will usually have a different type of tuition reimbursement benefit, and the application and qualifications will vary between school districts. This is a benefit that most districts offer as part of your employment agreement, so it’s often administered by your human resources department or the central office of your district.
The first question you need answered is ‘what does it take to qualify for tuition reimbursement?’ Some school districts require that you have been employed there for a minimum of two or more years and are in good standing. Some districts may not have any requirements, and some may only offer tuition reimbursement if you are teaching in a high-need subject area or in a lower income district. So it’s important to find how to qualify for your particular benefits.
Then, once you know if you qualify, you want to ask ‘how much does the district pay towards your degree? And how does it pay it?’ Oftentimes districts may have an arrangement with a local college or university, and they will pay the full (or at least a higher rate) of benefits if you attend that school over another school. Some districts simply have a tuition and fee ‘cap’ – meaning that you can attend anywhere you want for any number of credits, and they will pay up to a specified amount per year or per semester. However, it’s also very common for a district to pay for a set number of credits only per year, so you want to do your homework on the program you want to enroll in and how many credits your district will cover up front so you know what all your obligations may (or may not) be.
Once you have found out how much you qualify for and have chosen where you want to go to school, then you’ll want to make sure you know how to keep your benefits and how to make sure they get paid to your college or university.
Some tuition reimbursement programs will send the funding directly on your behalf to the Bursar (or student accounts office) at your college or university. They may send the check at the beginning of the term or may require proof of your grades and only send the check at the end of the term. This is an important distinction, as if it’s the latter you will need to make payment arrangements by using either financial aid or a payment plan. Since your tuition and fees are required at the beginning of each term, if your reimbursement is only being paid after you’ve completed the term, you would be responsible for paying for your tuition first and then being reimbursed by your school district later upon proof of your grades being submitted to the district.
Additional Things to Consider
The other thing you want to be sure of is if your district has any other requirements to make sure you retain your funding. Some districts require a certain GPA, and others may require that you complete the program in a set number of semesters. By paying attention to whatever terms and conditions you may have, you can ensure that you keep the maximum funding available at all times.
The last thing that you want to know is what type of obligations do you have to the district if you use their funding? Many districts require that you continue to work for them for a set number of years after completion of your program as a form of service obligation.
For example, it is very common that a district will require you to remain working for them for 2-5 years after you complete the program. If you do choose to leave their employment while you are working off your years of service, you would be billed or charged a prorated amount of the benefits you received towards your degree. One example would be if they paid $10,000 for your degree, and you were required to work for 5 years upon graduation of the program. That means that for each year you work for them you are satisfying $2,000 of your obligation to them. So if you left the district 3 years into your 5-year obligation, you would owe them $4,000 upon separation.
All in all, tuition reimbursement or tuition benefits are some of the best perks of being a teacher. Not only do you receive funding for your degree that helps you increase your earning potential, but you also have a secure job at the end of it. However, it’s important to know the details up front so you don’t regret it later if there are any requirements that you are not comfortable with.