If you've been hoping for help financing your MBA, the numbers show that now might be the right time to seize the opportunity. Employers are moving past the salary plateau of the last several years and investing more in their workforce. According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employee compensation in the professional sector is up about 2.1 percent since June 2014.
If you're already working in a business administration field, chances are that earning your MBA can benefit your company as much as it benefits you. Here's a step-by-step guide to building a case for MBA sponsorship that might help your employer see the mutual benefit in your continued education.
Five Steps to Making a Bid For MBA Sponsorship
Step 1 - Find Out Whether Your Company Already Has Tuition Assistance Options
Even if it wasn't mentioned during the hiring process, there may be avenues for tuition help that are already in place at your company. Particularly, if you work for a large organization with multiple layers of management, various mechanisms may exist to help promote the professional development of employees who meet certain criteria.
J. Todd Rhoad is the managing director of Atlanta's BT Consulting and co-author of several guidebooks for aspiring MBAs and recent graduates. "Organizations typically support MBA pursuits for two reasons," Rhoad said, "employee development and succession planning. In the first case, companies support the cost of MBA programs as part of their commitment to employee training and development."
The criteria for tuition assistance tend to vary from company to company; with some approving assistance on a course-by-course basis and others offering lump-sum reimbursement packages for coursework in relevant degree plans. One way or another, if established conditions for educational sponsorship exist in your organization, you may already be on your way to an MBA.
Step 2 - Make Sure Your MBA Would Be a Good Investment For Your Organization
This part of the process might be tricky or might be a snap, depending on how much access you have to the breadth of your company's operations. Here are a few checkpoints to hit when determining the value of advanced business education to the goals of your organization:
- Do current members of middle or upper management hold advanced business degrees? If so, it may indicate that your employer appreciates the value of academic training as a part of a well-rounded professional skill set.
- Does your company have the available revenue to invest in employee education? The average cost of a two-year MBA in 2013 was $111,418, which may be too large an investment for some smaller businesses to afford.
- Would someone with the type of advanced training you seek bring clear advantages to the company? Successful pitches usually demonstrate considerable ROI for the sponsoring organization -- often far greater in value than the cost of the program.
Once you feel confident that your company appreciates the value of advanced education and has the resources to afford a justifiable investment, it's time to start putting together the details of your personal case for sponsorship.
Step 3 - Find a Program That Provides the Skills Your Business Needs
With the wide variety of specialized MBA programs available today, chances are pretty good that you'll be able to find one with learning outcomes that apply to your business. "A proposal should address the benefit to the company," Todd Rhoad said, "[including] areas where the company could improve and how you will help them, a review of the courses to be taken and how they will provide knowledge that can help improve the company's performance."
For example, if you work for a company that has import/export concerns, your employer might benefit from you earning an MBA that focuses on international business and supply chain management. Alternatively, if your company has a primarily local scope, but wants to go national, courses that teach the techniques of broad-spectrum marketing and stable territory growth may help you align with the trajectory your employer is looking to take.
"Outline your goals, career path and future plans in the company," Rhoad said, "and most importantly, define your commitment to the company after graduation as part of their return on investment."
Step 4 - Decide on a School and Classroom Format
It was once the case that prospective MBA students could only choose among nearby schools and a few correspondence academies. Now, though, colleges and universities all over the country offer online MBAs that many employers find to be on par with traditional degrees at all but the loftiest old-guard institutions.
In fact, many of the online MBAs on the 2016 U.S. News & World Report list of university rankings also show up among the national schools for campus-based graduate business degrees. Here's a table showing a few institutions with impressive rankings in both categories:
Online MBA rank
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler)
No. 1 (tie)
Indiana University - Bloomington (Kelley)
No. 1 (tie)
No. 21 (tie)
Temple University (Fox)
No. 1 (tie)
No. 41 (tie)
Arizona State University (Carey)
No. 4 (tie)
No. 30 (tie)
University of Florida (Hough)
No. 4 (tie)
No. 37 (tie)
Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)
No. 7 (tie)
University of Texas - Dallas
No. 33 (tie)
Not only can online MBA programs provide more opportunity to find exactly the right subject matter, there's an additional upside on the bottom line. Online courses and textbooks tend to cost less than their traditional counterparts, and the lower program cost might make your sponsorship proposal all the more persuasive.
Step 5 - Prepare Your Proposal and Make the Request
Once you have all your data together, organize it into a brief and cogent presentation. Here's a recap of some points you'll want to hit:
- Examples of how you fit the company's existing tuition reimbursement policy, if one exists
- Concrete advantages that MBA education can help you bring to company operations
- Hard data on how much assistance you may need and how the investment will pay off
- Assurance that you'll remain committed to the company during and after your degree program
Good timing can have a lot to do with your proposal's success too. If the organization has just seen a couple of great revenue quarters, that might be the opening you need. Also, remember that you don't need to ask for 100-percent sponsorship. Do some personal accounting and see how much you might be able to pay out of pocket -- you may be more likely to get a yes if you show that you're willing to put some skin in the game for your own professional development.
Bonus Advice for Current Students
If you feel confident about wanting to pursue an MBA, but you want to avoid a mountain of debt before you hit the career market, play the long game. Set out with your bachelor's degree and aim for a job with an employer that might be able to offer you sponsorship in a couple years' time.
According to Todd Rhoad, "The industries that would offer greater opportunity would be the industries that strive to hire top-tier MBAs, such as consulting, private equity, technology (Google and Amazon) and investment firms." It's also the case that several companies offer tuition reimbursement programs as part of their customary benefit structure, including high-profile nationals and internationals like these:
- Lockheed Martin
The tuition assistance available at these companies may be subject to case-by-case approval, but knowing that it's a part of their company culture can be a good starting position for potential MBA sponsorship. With a little research, you might be able to get on the MBA assistance bandwagon sooner than you think.
"Employment Cost Index for total compensation, for civilian workers, by occupational group and industry," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed August 5, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/eci.t04.htm
Interview, J. Todd Rhoad, August 4, 2015
"Best Business School Rankings," U.S. News and World Report, accessed August 5, 2015, http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/mba-rankings
"Best Online MBA Degree Programs," U.S. News and World Report, accessed August 5, 2015, http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/mba/rankings
"The Real Cost Of An MBA," Investopedia, accessed August 5, 2015, http://www.investopedia.com/articles/professionaleducation/09/mba-real-costs.asp
"Getting employer sponsorship for your MBA," The Open University Business School, accessed August 5, 2015, http://www.open.ac.uk/business-school/sites/www.open.ac.uk.business-school/files/file/MBA-Sponsorship.pdf
"Benefits Overview," AT&T, http://att.jobs/media/47959/benefits-overview_mgmt-l1-l4_final_121613.pdf
"Master's Opportunities," Intel, http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/jobs/locations/united-states/students/graduates/masters-degree.html
"Benefits," UPS, https://ups.managehr.com/Benefits.htm
"Graduate School Assistance Program," Deloitte, asdf, http://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/careers/articles/join-deloitte-graduate-school-assistance-program.html
"FAQs," Lockheed Martin, http://www.lockheedmartinjobs.com/faqs.aspx
"Extra Benefit Programs," Raytheon, http://jobs.raytheon.com/work-with-us/benefits/extras
"ADP Benefits," ADP, http://www.adp.com/careers/uscareers/why-adp/benefits.aspx