Asking for tuition support instead of a raise
December 19, 2008 7:43 AM   Subscribe

There will be no raises this year - so be it. But I'd like to try negotiating for tuition reimbursement in leiu of a raise. Can you give any advice on conducting this conversation with my boss?

Background: I work for a nonprofit museum. I report to the President/Executive Director. I've been here 4.5 years and gotten two merit raises in that time, the last of those being two years ago this month. The monetary compensation is still a bit below par for the field, but otherwise the job is quite good - excellent health benefits, retirement, security. My boss, the director, has also been extremely supportive of professional development for me; he's authorized essentially unlimited support for conference attendance, encourages me to be active in national organizations which require meetings around the country, and last year paid for me to attend a lengthy seminar out of state with a bill equivalent to what I might have got as a raise. All that is good and, essentially, this job is a pretty good place to be for a mid-career person such as myself.

But we had a sombre meeting a few weeks ago, as many nonprofits (and for-profits) did, laying out the financial prospects for the next 3 years. It was clear that we are going to be in very lean times, drawing a lot less from our endowment and fighting for revenue in a tight economony. So there's much less slush in the budget. For this reason, the President and board let us know that across the board, there would be no raises given in 2009.

Which is a bummer, because I was just about ready to ask for another raise. In the time since my last one I've brought a lot of grant money into the institution, developed new programs, and led the staff through some major changes, with good outcomes. I feel I have a strong case, but I understand that no raises means no raises.

Instead of asking for an exception to be made, I thought of asking for support for graduate school tuition. That would come from a separate pot of money from payroll, so wouldn't qualify as a 'raise,' but would be esentially just as helpful. I'm trying to finish my Master's and will be starting some coursework in spring. I could ask for the total tuition amount, for some undefined amount, for half the tuition, for tuition + books and transportation..I'm a little at sea as to how to make the ask and whether I should be asking for a specific amount, or just what he's willing to offer.

And I feel tentative about this because I know money's tight. And I have the usual feminine aversion to asking for raises - I'm no wily negotiator. In this climate it will take me a little more courage than it would have last year. Can anyone give me advice on initiating this conversation and preparing for it? I haven't been job-hunting, so I don't have a fallback position to move to if I don't get what I want - so I feel like I'm in a little bit of a weak negotiating spot. If I don't get what I'm asking for, I will have to sit tight for a while anyway. So I'm interested in getting something from the interaction, even if it's a token of some kind (ideas welcome).

posted by Miko to Work & Money (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you have a plan, including a rationale. It would be great if you could quantify the grant money you brought in, and created some short success stories about the change management you have implemented. But, bear in mind, these successes are part of your job, right? So you may wish to emphasize that you have not received a performance raise in the past two years.

You will also want to focus on forward-looking statements, such as the great retirement benefits and pro-d opportunities. This Master's degree is not going to benefit just you, but the organization, because you are going to stick around.

When pitching this idea, try to leave a back door that will allow you to save face if they say no.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:12 AM on December 19, 2008

I'd pitch it not as "because I deserve it" but as "here's why it's worth it for the organization." You've been working at a certain level, and you have achieved much success. If you had this additional education, you could work at a higher level. If they gave your high-achieving self access to that higher level, just imagine what an even bigger impact you could achieve for the organization. In addition to getting knowledge and thought tools, you'll be meeting important contacts and also getting a credential that will give the organization added legitimacy.

Alternative idea -- if your thesis could be tied in to your work, maybe that's why they should pay you more (just like they'd pay a consultant to write a white paper about XYZ). Fallback position? Paid time off to attend classes? You're essentially benefiting them with that time anyway.

You've asked for a lot of grants, so if it helps with courage, maybe you can separate the personal aspect of this and look at it as another grant request. For example, that's how you could figure out the amount. "Here's the full budget. I am also seeking funds from other sources. How much could the foundation the organization provide?" (And then there's also "what's a typical gift?" but you probably know that from last year's raises.)

Good luck, you deserve it.
posted by salvia at 8:26 AM on December 19, 2008

Open ended question towards tuition reimbursement about the amount allows them to determine what they think is far as an openning position. You can try to negotiate from this point.

For example's sake, my for profit company offers full tuition reimbursement for any advanced degree that would assist the employee's work at the company. We're an engineering company, so these tend to be Master's in Engineering, Computer Science, or Business Administration. They recently added a restriction saying that if we left within a year of reimbursement, we'd owe the money back to the company. There was a special program that paid transportation, time, and books, but when the disparity between that program and the others was examined at a high level, the extra benefits were removed.

If you think they may balk at funding a Master's degree, you could see what they think about funding specific courses that would aid your work, and also just happen to go towards your master's degree.
posted by garlic at 8:30 AM on December 19, 2008

I would be sure to offer a good explanation of how the credentials of the degree will benefit the organization. If you are already an experienced and successful grant writer, that degree might open up more revenue streams for your org to tap into. Credentials matter when asking for money, and from a simple cost-benefit analysis, the money your org spends on your reimbursement may well be paid for in several years.
posted by mrmojoflying at 9:13 AM on December 19, 2008

You've already got it down, perfectly, except for the part where you're nervous about asking. This is a great solution to tough times, and it's the kind of compromise that EDs would often like to propose, but sometimes feel uncomfortable suggesting (offering could be seen as presumptuous, could encourage unmotivated people to go back to school just because the money is there, etc.)

As for preparation, you have your rationale for why you deserve a raise AND are keeping the best interests of the institution at heart. You have grant writing experience, right? Use it!

I would tally up all the costs, let him know the amount and see how he reacts. Aim for a commitment for a whole year. "My schooling will cost $x in 2009." And then take it from there. Maybe he'll agree. Maybe he'll wince and say that this is too much. Meanwhile, make sure you've done your homework. Find out what comparable institutions provide for tuition reimbursement. As for reduced offers to put on the table, it is not unusual for institutions not to cover the cost of books, so you could offer to cut that amount. Or propose that they pay 60% (which gives you negotiation room to go down to half.) Or propose a flat rate per semester or per year.

But if it turns out that your proposal will not be possible, or you don't get the level of money for which you were hoping, it doesn't necessarily mean that you did it wrong or that you lost a battle or that it's a sign that you aren't valued. It is easy to feel embarrassed after you put yourself on the line and don't get a yes, but don't be embarrassed, any more than you'd be personally embarrassed when your dept budget got cut. (Not quite a valid analogy, but it'll do for now.)
posted by desuetude at 9:14 AM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and it's well worth pointing out just how much less expensive tuition reimbursement is compared to salary raise once you count in the longevity of the raise, fringe benefits, etc. It really is a win-win situation for an employer with a productive employee
posted by mrmojoflying at 9:16 AM on December 19, 2008

I was so surprised to see a thread from Miko - the sage, wise advice giver! You come across as incredibly competent, confident and courageous - so remember that going into your meeting. You're an incredibly rare, high quality person.

In terms of how to make the ask, simply frame it as something other than a raise. Lets say there'd been raises this year - you did a stellar job, you'd have gotten a raise, and the raise would go towards paying your tuition. Without the raise, the plan to achieve the Master's degree would be deferred. Thus, the benefit to the museum of having awesome Miko with a master's degree is deferred! So the org should contribute to Miko's professional development.

Alternatively, submit a nice year long plan of the conferences and such you want to go to, as you would do anyway - it takes a long time to get the flights/hotels/etc booked for that stuff! Except instead of the 4 or 5 conferences you'd go to, there's only one conference, plus this SUPER AWESOME degree programme. Of course put your professional objectives in there, same as you'd do for the conference programme.

These can be tweaked in many ways depending on your museum's business processes.
posted by By The Grace of God at 9:34 AM on December 19, 2008

Before you go down that route, consider the tax implications. From what I recall, the IRS considers tuition reimbursement taxable income: income you did not pay taxes on.

Conversely, some tuition you pay is tax deductible.

Either way, you'll end up paying for the "raise".
posted by jdfan at 11:26 AM on December 19, 2008

Before you go down that route, consider the tax implications.

For graduate credits, more than $5250 in one year is taxable as earned income (about 5-6 credit hours worth). Considering that Miko sounds like she is already part of the way there, and unlikely to return full time, it still is an awfully good deal - albeit one that you do have to plan for tax-wise.
posted by mrmojoflying at 11:38 AM on December 19, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! This is excellent advice which I will put to use, and I hadn't even thought about the tax implications. Wish me luck!
posted by Miko at 1:36 PM on December 19, 2008

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