This article is part of a series of FAQs with Thunderbird Executive Education about the value of continued executive development and lifelong learning.

Considering an executive education course? Smart move, because when it comes to professional development, everyone wins – those who update their skills and the companies they work for benefit. But the reverse is also true: Organizations that let their employees lag can lose their competitive edge in the global marketplace.

“Companies that invest in their employees boost their performance and employee retention. This loyalty helps companies retain their talented leaders,” says Robert Schaeffer, Client Relationship Manager for Executive Education at Thunderbird School of Global Management. “But there’s also a cost involved for professional development, so the level of investment is a balancing act.”

If the price of tuition is an obstacle, your goals may be within reach if your company chips in. From online courses to in-person programs, tuition can range up to several thousands of dollars, so employer assistance can make a big difference. 

“Ultimately, education is an investment in success. Yours – and your company’s.” – Click to tweet

Employer assistance

About 52 percent of organizations offer tuition assistance for post-graduate education, according to a 2015 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). The terminology varies among companies – tuition reimbursement, employer-sponsored education, educational assistance – and so does the way these benefits are disbursed.

Many companies reimburse up to $5,250 a year for education expenses because that’s the maximum allowed by the federal government for tuition benefit expenditures to be exempted from withholding tax. You can stretch out the value of that benefit, however, by receiving it each year over a longer period of time.

‘We’ll work with you’

Larger companies are often the most supportive simply because they have more resources. But if you don’t work for a company with vast resources, don’t give up. Thunderbird is responsive to the situations of companies and individuals, Schaeffer says, and offers flexibility such as installment plans. “We’ll work with you. We want to create opportunity for those interested in furthering their careers. So we try to exhaust every avenue to find the best option for each participant.”

If your company offers tuition assistance, Thunderbird has the ability to invoice, direct bill, or accept company vouchers, Schaeffer says. “The voucher process is a formal agreement of guaranteeing funds and allows the participant to begin right away.”

Corporate discounts can also help. “If you have a certain number of applicants from the same company, we can work together to offer corporate rates and incentivize multiple enrollments,” Schaeffer says. “Increasing the number of participants allows the company’s tuition budget to go further.”

Persuading your employer 

If your company doesn’t currently offer executive education benefits, some advice for bringing your employer aboard:

1) Make the case. Focus on the bottom line to show how investing in you adds value for your company.

  • Crunch the numbers: Identify ways your professional development can help the company make money or save money. Be specific about increasing revenue or taking on new assignments.
  • Do your homework: Be prepared to discuss details of the program and the skills you will attain. Include research on how those skills boost productivity or performance.
  • Chart a new course: Identify improvements or opportunities to pursue. Schaeffer points to his own situation as an example: Thanks to Thunderbird’s tuition benefits for employees, he is taking a course in organizational leadership. “This course is giving me ideas for thinking outside the box,” he says. “I’m gaining insights into how to approach my job differently and perform at an even higher level. So that benefits not only me but Thunderbird as well.”
  • Build prestige: “Executive education courses at a thought leader like Thunderbird can help you boost your company’s global profile,” Schaeffer says. “Other places are starting to realize that it pays off to be global, but we’ve always been first and leading the way with the global mindset.”

“Focus on the bottom line to show how investing in you adds value for your company.” – Click to tweet

2) Make some offers. Improve your odds of a “yes” by offering to help your company’s investment go further.

  • Share the knowledge: Propose to share your new knowledge and skills with fellow colleagues by hosting a training session or giving a formal presentation.
  • Adjust the timing: Let your company know you are flexible to enrolling at a time when your tuition expenses fit best into their budget cycle.
  • Add accountability: Sign an agreement setting timetables and expectations. Consider including a guarantee that you’ll stay at the company a certain amount of time. “It gives them the confidence that they are maximizing their investment,” Schaeffer says. “And it helps keep you on an upward track at the company.”

“Ultimately, education is an investment in success,” says Schaeffer. Yours – and your company’s.

Thunderbird offers a suite of classroom- and online-based executive and professional development programs designed to challenge business leaders to think and manage more effectively in a constantly evolving and turbulent international world. Learn more and see program offerings.