Thinking about returning to school?

January 28, 2020

As part of the New Year, New You series, staff member — and Fall 2019 graduate — Bailey Ayers-Korpal shared her experience using the employee tuition assistance programs.

Fall 2019 commencement - Bailey Ayers-Korpal
Fall 2019 commencement - Bailey Ayers-Korpal
Bailey Ayers-Korpal, right, graduated this fall. Her brother-in-law Travis Smith, left, was also a graduate.

Bailey Ayers-Korpal is a major player behind UM-Dearborn’s digital marketing campaigns.

When it comes to our campus, the External Relations campus marketing manager understands the audience UM-Dearborn wants to reach not just by data, but also by experience: She’s one of them.

Bailey recently finished her M.S. in Business Analytics (congrats, Fall 2019 grad!) through the assistance of the U-M Tuition Support Program and the UM-Dearborn Employee Scholarship.

Thinking about returning to school for the past few years, but never seeming to find the right time, Bailey decided to take the graduate school plunge in 2017 when she noticed the increasing amount of data knowledge digital marketing needs. It was the same year that she got married after a whirlwind of selling a condo, moving to a new state, buying a house and getting engaged in less than two years. 

“I realized there would never be a perfect time, but I wanted the education to become a better marketer. You can’t just have creative ideas and hope to win an audience. You need a strategy with data driven results,” she says. “We have a degree program here that specializes in this.”

Using both the U-M Tuition Reimbursement Program and the UM-Dearborn Employee Scholarship, Bailey learned the ins and outs of the programs through experience. And she’s sharing a few things to help make your return to the classroom smoother if it’s something you are considering.

Talk to your supervisor before you begin.

Let your boss know that this is on your mind and have a conversation about it. (Here’s the U-M Tuition Support Form to go over with your supervisor.) Even if you plan to do the program completely on your time, you’ll need support. For example, a class group project I was a part of wanted to meet at 5 p.m. regularly. I was able to attend those meetings because of my boss’s support. My supervisor also helped connect me to the right people when I did have questions about tuition and the scholarship programs.

You won’t feel singled out in the classroom.

I was nervous going to class on my first day. I didn’t know what to expect because it’s been a while since I was in a classroom as a student and I was worried I’d be surrounded by people with math or statistics backgrounds who just finished their undergraduate degrees. They were there, of course. But so were the people who were returning to college to change careers and people working during the day and going to school at night. It was a mix of ages, career stages and educational backgrounds. At UM-Dearborn, we say that a large part of our student population is non-traditional students. I’ve seen that it’s true.

Realize that there are two different Michigan funds for employee tuition assistance.

I knew I wanted to do graduate school, but I still have undergraduate loans so the financial help on campus made continuing school accessible for me. It’s great that we have two programs here to help us get degrees. But know that each program has its own forms to fill out and it can be a little confusing. Make sure you’ve applied for both.

The U-M Tuition Support Program pays up to 75 percent of tuition and registration fees if you are a full-time staff member. Getting a discount on a graduate degree like this is an incredible thing — it saved me so much money. But something to be aware of: After registering for your classes and applying for the program, the money will be included in your check and you’ll need to apply it to the balance yourself; it’s called a tuition advance.  I was surprised by that, but I believe it is done that way because anything more than $5,250 per calendar year from this benefit is considered taxable income when you take graduate-level courses. It can be tracked more easily this way. There’s also a cap on the amount of credits the U-M Tuition Support Program applies to per year (more on that below).

The UM-Dearborn Employee Scholarship covers up to 25 percent of the total tuition each term. Once you apply and it is approved, it comes right off the online bill. There’s not a credit-hour limit on that. 

Editor's Note: Human Resources Director Rima Berry-Hung says some staff choose to receive an after-class reimbursement for the U-M Tuition Support Program after the class finishes. She also said to read the UM-Tuition Support website or contact her to understand the eligibility criteria for the program.

You may need to choose time vs. money. 

The U-M Tuition Support Program covers 12 credits per calendar year — up to 4 credit hours per term, and 12 credits per year. If you do it that way, your graduate degree could be covered between the two programs. It makes sense that it is structured this way considering work-life-school balance.

But if you plan to take more credits and finish school on a faster timeline, plan to pay something toward the degree. I completed my graduate degree program in two and a half years and ended up paying about $5,000. It’s an amazing price. (Reach out to the Office of Scholarship & Financial Aid to see if you qualify for any grants, loans or additional scholarships.)

You will feel overwhelmed at times. That’s normal. Focus on what you are achieving.

Things that help you grow are hard — but remind yourself that you are worth it and you will succeed. For nearly two and a half years I had days where I was here for 12 hours because I’d leave work and head to class. I’d make sure to bring both lunch and dinner to work and study in my office before heading to class. But, even though the days felt long, I tried to focus on the positive. I didn’t have to factor in parking, long commutes, and I had a comfortable place to sit, study and eat before class. I was getting a Michigan education at a fraction of the cost. It was a one-step-at-a-time journey where the support of the people here, my family and my dog Bella — she was a great listener when I practiced my presentations — helped me reach a life goal.

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