Senator Tom Harkin

Will your employer help pay for your bachelor's degree?

May 23, 2012: 12:21 PM ET

How you present your request can make all the difference. A note of caution: Before choosing a college, do your homework.

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: I am an accountant at a small company that was recently acquired by a much larger firm, and it's becoming clear to me that I'll have a hard time advancing in the new organization unless I go back to school for a bachelor's degree. I currently have a two-year degree and a couple of professional designations, plus 11 years of work experience, but everyone above me here has a four-year degree, or even a graduate degree.

I'd have to study at night and on weekends, so I'm considering enrolling in a well-known national online university. But the tuition is fairly steep and I'm wondering if I can persuade my employer to foot at least part of the bill. I've heard that our new parent company used to offer tuition reimbursement as a standard benefit but cut it out, as a cost-saving measure, a few years ago. Any pointers on how to sell them on the idea of bringing it back? — Ready to Hit the Books

Dear R.H.B.: You are doubtless not the only one wondering. Consider: Just 26% of chief financial officers say their companies reimburse employees for the training required to maintain their professional certifications, according to a new survey by staffing firm Robert Half Finance & Accounting. That's a big drop from the 46% who paid for continuing education in 2006.

College tuition reimbursement has declined too, and not just in finance -- yet another casualty of tough economic conditions. "Companies are still struggling to recover from the downturn, and they're keeping a sharp eye on costs," notes Brett Good, a Robert Half senior district president in Irvine, Calif.

MORE: Harvard shakes up its MBA admissions

Another difficulty, he says, is that companies are well aware that education makes employees more marketable: "We're starting to see hiring pick up a little, so people are changing jobs more readily. Employers don't want to pay tuition for someone who's going to quit."

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