Nothing in Life is Free

In a recent post about my Financial Plan, Joe asked if there was any way that my employer might be willing to pay for part of my educational expenses. The short answer to that: Yes. I’ve been told by several people, including my boss and the President of our company, that it’s being discussed with our parent company. The long answer? Well, nothing in life is free.

I’ve been with the company since January 2012, the first three months working through a temporary agency. When I originally interviewed for the job, I openly discussed that I was going to school for my Masters in Accounting, and was looking for a career with advancement opportunities. No one ever mentioned tuition reimbursement as a benefit, so I assumed it wasn’t something that was offered.

It was recently mentioned in front of the President of the company that I was going to school. He was present during my interview, but since I was coming in as a temp, I honestly don’t think he was paying much attention. After it was brought to his attention that I was taking courses, he said he would talk with some people at our parent company to see if they might be willing to offer a reimbursement on some of my classes.

That was over a months ago. Recently my boss, who has known since the beginning that I was taking classes, mentioned that she had been discussing reimbursing me for classes with the Controller of our parent company and the CFO of their parent company. Our parent company is currently paying for one of their accounting employees to complete her Bachelors in Accounting. The details are being discussed, but I was told it was highly likely they would be offering to pay for my schooling. It’s also highly likely I will be declining the offer.

Why would I decline a free education? Well, it all comes down to the details. From what I’ve been told, the offer would include a contract specifying that I would be required to work for the company for “x” number of years after graduation. I don’t yet know what “x” is, but was told it could be 2-3 years, maybe more. My problem with that? Simply put, I’m not investing my time into an education so I can stay in my current position!

I’ve never met the girl whose education is being paid for by our parent company. The only things I know about her, and the structure at our parent company, is what I’ve been told. The current Controller at our parent company is expected to be retiring soon. Although, my understanding is that it was assumed his retirement would have already taken place. The plan was for the Assistant Controller to move into the Controller position, and the girl who’s schooling is being paid for to replace the Assistant Controller.

There were recently some major structural changes in our company, which resulted in a new high-level accounting position being created in our parent company. The Assistant Controller was moved into the new position. And the girl who was supposed to move into her position? Well, so far, that hasn’t happened.

I’ve been told it was decided she wasn’t a good fit for that position. Honestly, it’s not my business. So why do I care? Well, this girl signed a multi-year contract saying that once she graduated from school she would stay with the company. She did so with the understanding that she would be getting a promotion at some point in the near future. It’s looking like that may not happen. My understanding is that she’s still in school. She’s potentially traded several years worth of career advancement for a free education. I don’t know what she makes, or how bad of a deal this ends up being for her. But I do know this isn’t the deal she thought she was getting herself into.

Knowing about her situation is making me carefully consider my own. I’m currently working in an “entry-level” accounting position, making roughly $45,000/year. I’ve been keeping up-to-date on annual research for salary ranges in accounting positions in my area, and speaking with career counselors at my school. Research indicates that someone graduating with a Bachelors in Accounting can expect to get a job out of school making in the range of $60,000 per year. Someone in the Masters Program? Well, it’s geared towards people graduating into careers as Controllers, etc. A Controller in my area can expect a starting salary of $80,000.

Right now, I’m working off of a lot of hear-say and assumptions. But, it’s good to be somewhat prepared for what might be offered. My plan is to wait and see what they present, and then see if there is room for negotiation. I don’t want to accept a contract to stay with the company, only to be stuck in the same position for years, when I could have taken a job that would have more than made up the cost of tuition in a year. But then, I don’t want to pass up the chance to have my tuition paid for, only to be promoted and stay with the company anyways.

My decision is also tainted by my belief that my boss would never suggest me for a promotion. I don’t feel that she thinks my performance is lacking. But she’s the type of person that doesn’t like change. She’ll keep a terrible employee for years out of fear of the unknown. So she definitely wouldn’t suggest moving someone up who she sees as valuable to her.

But then again, all this could be a good thing. A month ago, no one at our parent company, or their parent company, even knew my name. Now I’m being openly discussed, along with the fact that I’m working towards advancement. This could all end up being a good thing for me!

If only I could find my crystal ball…

– Ms. W

What would you do if you were in my situation? Take the free tuition and contract? Try to negotiate?


  1. Free tuition sounds tempting =)

    But, like you said, it’s hard to commit to your company for X number of years without knowing more details! I hope that it works out for you =)

    1. Free tuition is soo tempting! If only it were that easy!

      I understand the company’s position though. They don’t want to put money into someone’s education, only to have that education benefit another company and not them. But, if it’s not advancing me, then the education really isn’t benefitting them either. It’s a tough call!

  2. A company that’s willing to invest in you, might be a company worth making a commitment to. You might try negotiating a promotion and a raise that kicks in when you earn your degree.

    1. I’m definitely thinking some negotiations will be in order. Oddly enough, the negotiating process has apparently started without me; My boss said they sent the contract to her, and she sent it back asking for some changes. But she wouldn’t say what was being offered, or what changes she was asking for. I’m feeling a little uneasy about the whole process. Three companies are negotiating to find an arrangement that works best for them. I feel a little outnumbered!

  3. […] months, my boss has been discussing with our parent company whether or not they would be willing to contribute towards the cost of my Masters Degree. I was told that they have paid for educational expenses in the past. I was […]

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