As I vaguely mentioned in my last post, after a few months of hustling to get all of my application items together, I’ve finally been accepted to the business anthropology master’s degree program at the University of North Texas. Along with my background in workplace coaching, organizational management, and leadership development, I’m excited at the prospect of adding an applied anthropology discipline to my portfolio (shoot me an email if you’re curious about what business anthropology is). My program is almost entirely online so it will be interesting to experience this type of learning and how different it might be from the traditional classroom experience.
But now comes the dawning realization that this program actually costs money (who knew?). Once upon a time I worked for a non-profit that offered a pretty sweet tuition reimbursement package in their benefits. The only condition was that you had to have a B grade or better in each class to be eligible for the reimbursement. Interestingly, the program didn’t necessarily have to be aligned with your job role (which is also rather rare). So, for instance, if you were in customer service and wanted to earn a degree in accounting, you were free to pursue that path.
I’m beginning to realize just how uncommon tuition reimbursement is in today’s organizations. Perhaps it’s always been this way or just a reflection of the current economy. Maybe you’re facing the same situation: you’re an employee planning on going back to school or a manager with staff who are interested in pursuing an advanced degree of some type…but your organization doesn’t have a tuition reimbursement or assistance program. While the financial aid is a nice benefit, there are some other ways to support academic learning in your organization:
Think of this as an academic adviser within your organization. Each program typically assigns a faculty member to help students align their courses and learning with their professional direction. Well, apply that same type of role within your organization. Ask a senior manager or seasoned professional within your organization to be a mentor. This sponsor would ideally be someone who has the background, experience, and network related to the student’s field of study. Their purpose would be to offer insight and help connect the classroom study to the day-to-day world of work.
Workplace Learning Cohort
If you work in a big enough organization, there will likely be others pursuing a degree along with you. Why not develop a learning cohort and pull all the students together? The cohort doesn’t have to be grouped according to field of study – unless it makes particular sense to gather all the MBAs together. But, there is a strong possibility for additional learning if the group is a collective from multiple disciplines. If for no other reason to form, the cohort can be a support group for balancing the demands of work, school, and home lives.
Mini-Internships and Work Integration Options
Unless your ultimate goal is to be the prince of an ivory tower, you’re probably going back to school in order to advance your professional goals. And there’s nothing more frustrating to get all of this academic learning with no application to the real world of work. There needs to be a balance between theory and application. If your degree is directly aligned with your current work, then talk with your executive sponsor or immediate manager about how you can best integrate your academic work with your daily professional work. If your degree is not aligned with what you do daily, make a case for a mini-internship in another department (or at another organization if you can make a convincing argument). Just be prepared to show how your current work assignments won’t suffer and that the mini-internship will make you more valuable to your manager, team, and company.
The big idea is to be creative in how you integrate your professional development and your work even if there are no established programs in your organization. Anyone have other ideas or programs they’ve run across for how companies can support the learners in their workplace?