As Congress decides whether employers should have a permanent tax break on tuition benefits, some college-educated workers admit they should have majored in something different and want to head back to the classroom.
Favorable tax treatment on tuition benefits expires at midnight on Dec. 31, 2010, unless Congress passes legislation aimed at making Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code permanent.
Under the U.S. tax code, employers receive a tax exclusion on up to $5,250 per year for education and training assistance. In addition, employees are not require to report as personal income employer-provided educational assistance for any course at the associate, undergraduate or graduate level.
Section 127 went into effect in 1978, and nearly a million working Americans take advantage of it every year, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
After the mid-term elections, lawmakers will return to Congress to debate and vote on the "Employee Educational Assistance Act of 2010" (H.R. 5600), which would permanently renew Section 127.
Over the years, employers have touted tuition reimbursement programs as a way to attract and retain top-notch talent. Yet, the renewal of the tax credit comes at time when some workers with college degrees are second guessing their educational paths and heading back to school because of a tight labor market.
For example, 36% of workers with college degrees said they wish they had selected a different course of study in college, with 26% reporting the market for jobs in their chosen field worsened from the time they entered college to when they graduated, finds a survey by CareerBuilder.
In addition, 13% of college-educated workers report that establishing new skill sets is now a priority and they intend to go back to school this year to make themselves more marketable.
"The job market has been challenging for all workers, regardless of degree level, and has prompted many to think about learning skills for high demand and emerging jobs," says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder.
"Many employers, particularly in areas such as healthcare, engineering, IT and communications have open positions and can't find skilled candidates to fill them. College students and workers considering going back to school should take note of areas with growth opportunities and more abundant hiring," she adds.
For workers who want to pursue more education, Haefner suggests the following:
- Talk to HR: If you're currently employed, many organizations offer some type of learning program. Whether it’s classes taught on-site at your company, courses and seminars across the country or reimbursement for graduate school programs, your HR department can help you decide what is the best fit for your goals.
- Leverage the Web - Sometimes, you don't even have to leave your home to hone your skills. Many sites offer a wide variety of learning opportunities, such as CBInstitute.com, or consider applying to an online university.
- Take advantage of local resources: Many local libraries and community centers offer classes in everything from basic Internet skills to foreign languages. Ask around your community to see what opportunities exist.
Career Builder, an online career Web site, commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct the online survey among 2,042 workers with college degrees. The survey was conducted in August and September 2010.
Other key findings from the survey include:
- While more than half (56%) of all workers with college degrees reported they found a job in their desired career path within one year of graduation, others' pursuits still haven't come to fruition.
- Nearly one-in-five (19%) of all workers with a college degree still have not found a job in their desired field.
- More than one-in-four workers (27%) who graduated from college ten years ago or longer reported they still haven't found a job related to their college major.
- Twenty-one percent said it took them three years or longer to find an opportunity in their desired career path while one-in-ten (12%) said it took five years or longer.
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