When Morgan Holcomb earned her bachelor’s degree in communication media from NC State in 2015, she didn’t plan to pursue a graduate degree.
But after Holcomb graduated, her parents encouraged her to start thinking about doing so. Holcomb considered their suggestion, but there was one problem: She couldn’t afford to attend graduate school.
In June 2016, Holcomb landed a job with the NC State Alumni Association as an online communications coordinator. After getting that job, she learned about the university’s tuition waiver program and decided to follow her parents’ advice. Holcomb is now a student in the Jenkins MBA program, but if it weren’t for the tuition waiver program, she likely wouldn’t be pursuing a graduate degree, she said.
“I always knew I wanted to come back and work for my alma mater,” said Holcomb, who also is the assistant director for marketing for the Jenkins MBA program. “When I found out about the tuition waiver program, that sold me on coming back to work here and coming back to school.”
The tuition waiver program allows eligible staff and faculty to have tuition waived for classes they take at any University of North Carolina System school, up to three courses per year. The program allows employees to take classes and earn degrees that could benefit them as they pursue their professional and career development goals. During the 2020-21 academic year, 751 NC State employees used the program to take classes for free.
“I would say it’s a great benefit of working for the university and one of the best benefits offered,” Holcomb said.
Other employees agree, said Angela Nicholson, who promotes the program and other employee benefits to new employees as part of her responsibilities as an onboarding specialist at the Onboarding Center.
NC State Tuition Waiver Program
This chart illustrates the number of employees granted tuition waivers for 2020 and 2021 summer sessions and 2020-21 academic year.
|Academic Sessions||Numbers of Employees Granted Waivers of Tuition|
|2020 summer sessions||38|
|2021 summer sessions||97|
The center promotes the tuition waiver program during employee onboarding and orientation sessions. It also sends employees an email that includes a reminder about the program after 90 days of employment.
The tuition program is sometimes one of the first things new employees inquire about during onboarding sessions, Nicholson said.
“It is one of our biggest conversation pieces with new employees,” she said.
The center recently launched a webpage to help employees navigate the tuition waiver process. The page includes step-by-step directions on how to apply for a waiver, including links to resources that can help employees decide which classes to take, what program to enroll in and how to register for those classes.
“Hopefully, we will get some feedback from users of the site and use that feedback to tweak the site and improve it,” Nicholson said.
Landing a Job
Holcomb said one reason why she followed her parents’ advice to get a graduate degree was that she worried her career might be stymied if she didn’t.
“I knew with an undergrad communication degree there was kind of a ceiling on what I could do and how much I could grow,” she said.
Holcomb said her decision to pursue an MBA has already paid off for her.
Before Holcomb enrolled in the Jenkins MBA program, she pursued a graduate marketing certificate through the program. After she earned that certificate, she interviewed for her current job as a marketer for the program.
“I was able to speak about the classes and how I could market the program because I was in the program,” she said. “It was easy to talk about my ability to be a good marketer, because I was experiencing what they wanted me to market. I would say that definitely helped me secure the job.”
Being a promoter of the MBA program and a student at the same time also has benefited Holcomb.
“When I’m in classes with people, and I hear about their background and what they’re doing, I’m like, ‘Oh, you would make a great story,’ or ‘Oh, I can highlight that person on the website,'” Holcomb said. “Not only am I experiencing the program, but I’m often meeting people who are in the program and would be great to feature marketing-wise.”
A Motivating Factor
For Lori Powell, a staffing specialist for University Temporary Services, the tuition waiver program motivated her to get a master’s degree in career counseling and placement at North Carolina Central University. She received that degree in 2014.
Powell earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication with a concentration in public relations at NC State in 2008. She worked for UTS from 2011-14 and held multiple roles, including senior staffing specialist. From 2014-18, Powell worked as a human resources consultant at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. She returned to UTS in her current role in December 2019.
Powell said her job at UTS allows her to do what she loves — give career advice and help people pursue career dreams. She said when she discovered the career counseling and placement graduate program at N.C. Central, she knew it would be perfect for her.
“The coursework that I took was very relevant to the work that I do today and two of my passions: human resources and career counseling,” Powell said. “I was super excited about attending there.”
She said she is thankful NC State has a program that helps employees pursue their educational goals.
“That definitely motivated me to get my master’s degree — knowing that NC state is supportive of employees furthering their education,” Powell said. “It was one of my goals and something that I wanted to accomplish. Knowing that I had some support, and I could get the three free classes a year, definitely made me go for it.”