Educational Assistance Program
The purpose of the educational assistance program is for workforce planning and development. It provides a tool for managers and employees to support academic activities that directly relate to the organization’s identified knowledge, skills, and behaviors (organizational competencies), and which support the mission, vision, and values of the organization.
Permanent and time-limited employees regularly scheduled 20 hours or more per week and probationary and trainee employees after satisfactory performance for a period of not less than three months, as determined by management.
The educational assistance program is not an employee benefit, right or entitlement; it is a management program for workforce development. Denial of participation in the educational assistance program is not grievable, except on grounds of discrimination.
Use of the educational assistance program shall be identified, described, and documented in the employee’s development plan within his/her work plan. This provides a measurable link between the employee’s increased competency and the agency’s workforce planning efforts. The educational assistance program provides reimbursement of academic costs if funds are available at the agency level, and/or time off the job if the course is available only during working hours.
Selective Service Registration: NCGS 143B-421.1 requires those eligible for selective service to be registered in order to be reimbursed academic costs. The federal Selective Service law specifies that males, both US citizens and immigrant aliens residing in the US and its territories, ages 18 through 25, shall register with the Selective Service.
Requests for educational assistance may be initiated by the employee or management.
Employees may initiate requests for educational assistance to:
- Maintain/enhance current skills
- Develop new skills/competencies for career development within the agency
Management may initiate requests for educational assistance to:
- Ensure employees have mandated licensure or certification
- Address a shortage of skilled workers in specific classifications
- Develop a pool of employees for succession planning
- Build specific high priority skills
- Address performance expectations of the employee as specified on the performance management improvement plan.
Job-related degrees and corresponding non-work related courses within a degree program may be approved at the discretion of management.
Academic courses are defined as a course/degree provided by an accredited community college, college, or university. Academic courses/degrees provided through traditional classroom, video-based, distance learning, web-based, e-learning and certain correspondence courses (see Ineligible Sources below) are eligible for approval. The course must provide academic credit (as opposed to CEUs), be listed in the college/university course catalog and charge tuition in the traditional meaning of tuition (as opposed to only registration fees). Accreditation must be via an accrediting agency authorized by the US Department of Education.
Correspondence courses not accredited by the US Department of Education or the American Council on Education/CREDIT for academic credit are not eligible under this policy.
Management, when making the determination whether to provide educational assistance to take a specific course, must consider the basic principle: “deemed beneficial to both the University and the employee.”
Completion of the course should have a direct benefit to the University. The improved knowledge, skills and abilities gained by the employee should benefit the individual in completion of his/her current and/or potential job duties. Management should consider workforce planning, succession planning and career development in approving employees to receive educational assistance.
Guidelines to consider in course selection are:
- Courses which provide knowledge and skills directly related to maintaining or improving current job skills;
- Courses mandated by law or regulation as a job requirement for continued employment; and
- Courses directly related to the employee’s current job or a documented workforce need.
When approving courses, management must consider workforce planning in developing employees who demonstrate the ability to perform at a higher level of responsibility. Hard to recruit classifications are areas in which an employee could be approved to take courses outside his/her current classification level to meet future work needs. Examples of this are:
- Technicians working on a college degree to fill professional engineering positions; or Health care workers participating in a nursing program; or
- Courses included in an academic program which are necessary to complete a management approved degree program.
- Educational assistance shall not be approved for courses where management has determined that neither the course nor degree is of benefit to the University.
The Senior Director of Benefits Services, Office of Human Resources, may approve exceptions to the approved course policy.
Audited Courses – Academic courses which are audited are eligible for educational assistance; however an employee may be reimbursed for the same course or course equivalent only once. Reimbursement requires a statement written on school letterhead and signed by the instructor that the employee attended at least 85% of the scheduled class meetings during the academic term.
Certification/Licensing (Post-Employment) – Incumbent employees who meet minimum educational requirements for employment and for whom certification/licensing is required after employment or is deemed desirable by management are eligible for educational assistance under the following conditions:
- Certification/licensing is mandated or is a policy requirement of the University or hiring department.
- Educational assistance is authorized for certification or licensing only if the certification or license is attained via academic course work.
Coursework for certification or licensure will be considered “At Agency Request” as described in this policy.
Eligible employees approved for educational assistance may be reimbursed academic costs charged by the academic source at which the employee is enrolled. Academic costs are defined as charges assessed by an academic source to every person enrolling for the course. These charges are required of everyone and are neither negotiable nor discretionary for the individual enrolling in the course. Academic costs include in-state tuition, fees and course/lab fees. Course/lab fees must always be itemized. Reimbursement of course/lab fees may require a written statement from the academic source justifying the fee as a required fee in addition to other fees.
Amount of Reimbursement
Eligible employees may be reimbursed academic costs charged by the academic source where enrolled. Departments may reimburse all academic costs as specified in the paragraph “Academic Costs,” or reimburse only tuition and other academic-related fees, but not fees unrelated to registering for a course or a degree program, such as dorm, student union construction, athletic fees, student health service, cultural event fees, etc.
Management may also, with a bona fide business justification, reduce the amount of reimbursement per employee to a set amount less than the tuition and fees and/or limit the number of courses for which any one employee may be reimbursed in an academic term.
Management choosing to reimburse an amount less than the academic costs specified in the paragraph “Academic Costs” shall make this information available to all employees at the beginning of the fiscal year and apply this limitation in a fair and equitable manner to all employees requesting educational assistance in that fiscal year. (See also “Reimbursement without Department Funds” section below.)
For study at University of North Carolina Institutions or the Institutions of the North Carolina Community College System, eligible employees may be reimbursed for 100% of academic costs for up to 20 credit hours per fiscal year.
For study at all academic institutions other than institutions of The University of North Carolina and Institutions of the NC Community College System, eligible employees may be reimbursed up to the maximum academic cost charged by the UNC institutions for up to 20 credit hours (or 32 quarter hours per fiscal year). This amount will be determined by the Office of State Human Resources and published within 10 working days of the adjournment of the General Assembly and the meeting of the UNC Board of Governors to approve fees (see Reimbursement Ceiling for Educational Assistance costs in the Related Subjects section below). Reimbursement of tuition and fees from out-of-state colleges/universities shall not exceed the amount as specified above.
Special Graduate Programs
Graduate professional programs (medicine, veterinary medicine, business, etc.) with unusual course/lab fees, tuition or other fees will be considered on a course by course basis. The Senior Director of Benefits Services, Office of Human Resources, may approve payment of these academic costs.
Reimbursement shall NOT be made for:
- Charges specifically related to processing or receiving continuing education units (CEUs)
- Application, examination, and graduation fees
- Transportation costs
- Textbooks * and supplies
* See Sections “Courses Taken at Agency Request” and “Reimbursement without Department Funds” below for other textbook reimbursement provisions.
Other Financial Assistance
Financial assistance from any other financial aid program shall not be duplicated under this program. (If eligible for Tuition Waiver and/or Student Fee Waiver, the employee must apply these programs first.) However, the difference, if any, between such aid and the allowable costs under the Educational assistance program may be reimbursed.
Congress enacted the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 which allows an employer to offer its employees up to $5,250 in tax-free (job related and non job-related) educational assistance for undergraduate and graduate level courses begun after December 31, 2001.
Requirement for Reimbursement
Management may consider any current disciplinary action for job performance or personal conduct prior to approval of the application for reimbursement.
If funds are available, the applicant shall receive reimbursement of approved academic costs upon submitting evidence of satisfactory completion of a preapproved course. Completion is defined as “Satisfactory,” “Pass,” or a grade of “C” or better for undergraduate courses, and a “B” (“P”) or better for graduate courses. An “Incomplete” shall not be reimbursed until a final grade is issued.
Requests for reimbursement must be submitted within 30 calendar days of completion of the course.
Employee Transfers & Separations
If an employee transfers to another department or State agency, and subsequently completes an approved course, the employee shall submit a request for reimbursement to the employing agency or department. The employing agency is responsible for processing the request per the provisions of this policy, and providing reimbursement if funds are available.
Employees who separate from State service prior to the completion of the course are not eligible for reimbursement. If an employee has been approved for educational assistance by reason of Reduction in Force (i.e. layoff), UNC may honor its reimbursement commitment. However, if an employee’s separation date is prior to the beginning of the course, UNC is not obligated to reimburse the employee. If the course work has not yet started when the layoff notice is delivered, the approval will be cancelled.
Because of specific high priority skill needs of the University or department, management may require employees to take specific courses or degree programs “at agency request”. Under these circumstances, the following applies:
- All limitations under the provisions of this policy are waived. Employees are still responsible for requirements for withholding taxes and FICA.
- All expenses to the individual shall be reimbursed related to acquiring the necessary course or degree, to include: travel costs; examinations and administrative fees; textbooks and other course materials. (Any books or materials paid for by the department become the property of the department.)
If courses taken “at agency request” exceed the credit hour per fiscal year limitations of the educational assistance program, then the situation shall be administered under the policy provisions for Extended Educational Leave.
Not all courses specified as part of an employee’s improvement/development plan are necessarily considered to be “at agency request” unless specifically approved as such by the department head or designee and approved by the Senior Director of Benefits Services, Office of Human Resources (see “Application Procedures” section below).
An approved course should be taken on the employee’s own time. If a course can be taken only during working hours, eligible employees must request Educational Leave prior to the beginning of the course allowing sufficient time for the educational assistance request to be reviewed. Educational Leave may be granted unless the supervisor identifies work conditions that will not permit the employee to be absent from the job.
Supervisors are encouraged to develop alternate work arrangements to complete the work assignments and also grant Educational Leave. Reasonable travel time as determined by the supervisor may be permitted to attend approved courses.
Management may approve Educational Leave, and, if approved, Educational Leave shall not be charged to the employee’s vacation leave.
Educational Leave during work hours shall not exceed one course up to five hours academic credit per academic term. Exceptions to the leave restriction may be addressed using the Educational Leave with Pay provisions of this policy.
Thesis/Dissertation Research Courses
Job-related thesis/dissertation research courses at the masters/doctoral level are restricted as follows:
- All required written examinations for the degree shall be successfully completed before the course is approved.
- A maximum of 15 hours leave may be approved for each academic credit hour. All leave hours shall be used during the academic term and may not be accumulated.
- A maximum total of 9 academic credit hours are allowed for any one employee.
Courses taken at agency request that exceed the credit hour per fiscal year limitation must follow the Extended Educational Leave policy. An agency wishing to initiate a program for a number of employees to participate in a degree or certificate program must also refer to the Extended Educational Leave policy.
Extended Educational Leave
The department may provide leave with pay or leave without pay for certain types of academic courses. The references to these specific policies are set out below.
Educational Leave Without Pay
Extended Educational Leave without pay may be granted by department management in accordance with the normal Leave Without Pay Policy.
Educational Leave With Pay
Extended Educational Leave with Pay is allowed only with advance approval of the Senior Director of Benefits Services, Office of Human Resources. Justification for the paid leave must be attached to the Educational Assistance Application at the time of pre-approval (see “Application Procedures” section below).
Management may consider any employee (permanent, probationary, trainee or time-limited) for extended Educational Leave to participate in job or career-related work-study, scholarship or fellowship programs based upon the following criteria:
- Verification that both labor market and organizational needs exist for development in the program requested.
- Equal opportunity provided in selection of candidates.
Employees are informed of University and/or department policies and procedures regarding:
- Announcement and application procedures,
- Screening and selection of employees,
- Limitations and restrictions on academic courses,
- Leave, salary, benefit conditions, withholding taxes and FICA, and
- Reimbursement agreement
Requests for extended Educational Leave initiated by the employee and which do not meet with the above criteria will be administered according to the Leave without Pay Policy.
Benefits Services in the Office of Human Resources is responsible for retaining records, on a fiscal year basis, of educational assistance activity. This information shall be reported annually to the Office of State Human Resources upon request and shall include the following:
- Number employees participating in the program,
- Amount (tuition and fees) reimbursed,
- Number employees granted Educational Leave,
- Number employees taking courses at agency’s request,
- Number employees granted extended education leave,
- Number of employees taking courses for mandated/required certification/licensing
Benefits Services will request additional information from University departments as needed.
The University allocates a calculated amount of money for this program based on usage in prior years in order to provide some benefit for all eligible University employees.
Eligible employees who are from departments that may lack necessary funds for reimbursement under the Educational Assistance Program, or who are taking academic coursework that is not work-related, may request reimbursement through the Office of Human Resources. Employees may also request textbook reimbursement through this program.
The maximum reimbursement an employee may receive through the Office of Human Resources for tuition expenses for coursework approved under this policy is $500 per fiscal year.
The maximum reimbursement an employee may receive through the Office of Human Resources for textbook expenses related to coursework approved under this policy is $100 per fiscal year.
Pre-Approval (Part I of the Application)
Deadline: Educational Assistance Application must be approved prior to the start date of the course.
Employee submits Educational Assistance Application to his/her supervisor.
Supervisor reviews request and authorizes any departmental contribution to the employee’s coursework.
The supervisor must forward the Educational Assistance Application for pre-approval to Benefits Services, CB# 1045, ONLY if requesting:
- “At Agency Request” Designation
- Paid Extended Educational Leave
- Exceptions to the Approved Course Requirements
- If required, Benefits Services will review the Application, verify employee and course eligibility, and return the Application to the employee.
Reimbursement (Part II of the Application)
Deadline: Educational Assistance Application and all supporting documents must be submitted within 30 calendar days of completion of the course.
Employee submits Educational Assistance Application (Parts I & II) to his/her supervisor and attaches the following documentation:
- Proof of completion of the course, including grade (If an audit course, the employee must provide a letter on the institution’s letterhead certifying that the employee attended at least 85% of the course sessions)
- Receipt of course expense(s)
- Checklist for Taxability of Tuition Waiver & Educational Assistance Reimbursement
Supervisor reviews documentation authorizes reimbursement, and completes the Educational Assistance Application.
- If only leave has been given to the employee – The department completes the Educational Assistance Application.
- If the employee’s department will reimburse the employee for all or part of the course – The Department completes the reimbursement process with Disbursement Services.
- If the employee’s department will provide partial or no reimbursement, and reimbursement is requested through the Office of Human Resources – The department completes the departmental reimbursement (if any) and forwards the Educational Assistance Application with all supporting documents to Benefits Services, CB# 1045. Benefits will complete the reimbursement with Disbursement Services.