Dear Roadie: Should I Switch to a College Job to Get Tuition Discounts for My Kids?

Newspaper print with "Job Opportunity" being examined under a micrscope

Dear Roadie: Should I Switch to a College Job to Get Tuition Discounts for My Kids?

Published May 29, 2024

Newspaper print with "Job Opportunity" being examined under a micrscope

Dear Roadie,
I’m a 41-year-old mom with twin 17-year-old sons. My husband and I are concerned about their college expenses. I have a good job in marketing, but I’m thinking of applying for another job at a local university 30 minutes from home. Would it be worth it for the tuition discounts that all employees get for their families? My husband isn’t so sure I should leave my current job. What do you think?  
— Willing to Switch Jobs

Dear Willing to Switch Jobs, 

Many people aren’t even aware of the benefits offered to employees of some colleges and universities, including free tuition, so I don’t blame you for asking the moment you heard this. But the answer to whether it’s worth it to work at a university simply to get the free tuition benefits depends on many factors. 

Tuition prices have more than doubled in the past two decades. In 2023, the average annual cost for a four-year, in-state college was almost $11,000, and the average annual cost at four-year private colleges was nearly $40,000, according to the College Board. Some, like the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Miami (Florida), and the University of Southern California hover around a whopping $90,000 per year. 

The idea of getting a free ride for your child simply by working at a college or university can seem pretty attractive when you look at numbers like these.

But while it’s true that about 90 percent of colleges and universities indeed provide some form of free tuition to children of full-time employees, according to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, there is no universal policy regarding this benefit of employment. This means each school can create its own rules regarding who receives this benefit, when, and how much. 

Some require employees to work for a set number of years to receive the tuition benefits. Others make it accessible from your first day of employment. Some universities increase the tuition benefits with each year of service, rewarding longer-term employees with full tuition benefits. 

Others, like the University of Dayton (Ohio), have tuition exchange programs with a pool of participating schools, allowing employees and their dependents to transfer their tuition benefits. 

In short, you’ll have to do your homework before applying to any job to ensure the benefits align with your timeline and extend to dependents.

There are also some drawbacks to consider. Once the tuition benefit exceeds the IRS’ guidelines of $5,250 annually, the rest is generally considered taxable income. That may not be the worst thing in the world to some families, but to others, it can be a big shock when they get their tax bill.

In most cases, students will still have to meet admission requirements, so don’t apply for a university job if your children fall short of those. The school should also be a good fit for your children overall. Are there majors they are interested in? Is it the kind of environment they see themselves succeeding in? Forcing a student to attend a school they don’t want to go to can spawn a whole new set of problems, and it may not be worth it if that’s the case.

Also, switching jobs isn’t always as easy as it sounds. You work in marketing, and universities certainly do a lot of marketing, so you’re likely to find openings periodically. Are you 100 percent willing to start over with a new employer? Will a job like this require a move, add to your commute, or set your career back in any way? If the answer to any of these latter questions is yes, I’d give it serious thought. There’s no sense in creating new problems while trying to solve old ones.

Generally speaking, no one should take a job because of a single benefit, even if it is the promise of free college tuition. But if a certain position will advance your career or skill set, make use of the experience you already have, and you’re not tied to your current employer in some way, it may be worth pursuing. 

It doesn’t hurt to look into it, especially if there’s a school that seems to be a good match both for you and your child.

Have a perplexing college question? Email Dear Roadie for advice at dearroadie@road2college.com

_______

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Other Articles You Might Like:

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Dear Roadie: Should I Tell My Daughter Not to Bother Applying to Unaffordable Dream Schools?

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