Are You Leaving Money on the Table?

By Eltra Butler

Strategic Partnerships Manager

Western Governors University

The pandemic has caused a shift in all areas of business, and the field of education is no exception. Many colleges and universities had to shift their methods of instruction delivery due to the pandemic, and many of these changes have become permanent.

According to one report, spending on education technology in the United States reached $27.6 billion in 2021. Digital curriculum spending in 2020 was $13.1 billion, an increase of $2.1 billion over 2019. Digital curricula were essential due to the sudden move numerous institutions had to make to remote instruction.

These educational shifts also include shifts in the new student pool and the programs they pursue. Many of these new learners are adults who will be making career shifts. For those who have not been in school for at least a decade, applying for financial aid can seem quite daunting.

In reality, the process of applying for financial aid is much simpler now than it was in the 80s and 90s. When applying, students are also applying for local and state grants for which they might qualify, i.e., “free money.”

In addition to scholarships and grants available to the general population, a little research and diligence can uncover scholarships geared toward specific populations or degree programs. For instance, Western Governors University recently received a grant of nearly $1 million from the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition to increase the number of Black, Latina and Native American (BLNA) women earning bachelor’s degrees in information technology. BLNA women represent approximately 16 percent of the total U.S. population, yet they make up only four percent of students obtaining bachelor’s degrees in computing.

Adult workers could also be overlooking money from their employers. Don’t forget that many employers offer benefits beyond the typical medical, dental and 401(k) plans, including tuition reimbursement.

Tuition reimbursement/assistance can “look” very different based on the employer. Some college-tuition-assistance options include loan forgiveness, low-interest education loans, tuition bills direct-billed to the company, and tuition reimbursement. Some organizations even reimburse employees for one class each term if the employee earns a particular letter grade in the class — typically a “B” for a graduate-level course and a “C” for an undergraduate course.

Other employers have increased their tuition reimbursement amount to $5,250 per year for employees. Since 2016, $5,250 is the maximum amount an employer can provide to an employee tax-free. College tuition assistance is a wonderful way to not only use benefits that your company offers, but also to assist in keeping higher education affordable.

If you are considering pursuing an MBA, Western Governors University recently announced a one-year MBA track. This option costs $9,060 per year ($4,530 for two six-month terms) and has a projected salary increase of $16,200 upon completion of the degree. So, if a student were to begin this program in January and utilized their company’s maximum tuition reimbursement of $5,250 for the year, he or she could potentially pay only $3,810 out of pocket for a regionally and ACBSP-accredited MBA degree. This estimate doesn’t take into account the student applying for and potentially receiving a scholarship or grant from WGU or another source.

The bottom line is that we’ve done so much to secure our bag, we also have to be diligent to keep the bag; increase it and not leave anything on the table. I heard someone say the other day that they wanted all their coins, and guess what? Coins add up to dollars.