A guest post from Dr. Mike Porter, APR, sponsored by the University of St. Thomas.

Having been on both sides of the graduate school equation, including nearly 10 years on the teaching side, I’ve noticed a number of changes that affect people considering graduate degrees as a means to enhance their career prospects.

Today, many employers have eliminated or dramatically reduced tuition reimbursement. In working with students from every major firm in the market, plus many at much smaller firms, I see few companies offering more than the $5250 cap the government has set as non-taxable, and even this amount is beyond what smaller companies offer.

Most students turn to loans to cover much of the investment in an advanced degree. The central question regarding loans would be whether this is “good debt” or “bad debt.” If gaining new skills and knowledge improves your earning power by a percentage higher than the interest on loans, you might consider it good debt. It’s completely fair to ask admissions counselors and program directors about your prospects for increased income – after all, few people can afford to attend school just for the pleasure of learning.

Obviously, some programs cost more than others, and it becomes your challenge to balance those elements against future returns. Remember, tuition and fees are only part of your investment. You will be taking time and energy away from your work and family. Some degrees can be completed in a year, while others may take longer; however, the right program for you should deliver dividends in the form of improved skills or new experiences which can land you that next dream job.

To jump back to paying for the best program to meet your needs, changes in the competitive education environment mean you may find newly developed scholarships through the school.

When I arrived at the University of St. Thomas (UST) in the 1990s, effectively no scholarships were available. Today, we have a number of scholarship opportunities.

For instance, in the Opus College of Business, we have a small endowment named for James S. Fish, the first dean of graduate business communication at UST. He was well known nationally for his work with the Advertising Federation and the Better Business Bureau on professional ethics and industry self-monitoring in advertising and communication.

We just announced that the Fish Scholarship will now be awarded to one incoming student in the Master of Science in Health Care Communication. Based on Fish’s reputation and ideals, Fish Scholars must share and demonstrate a dedication to high ethical standards in business communication. We challenge applicants to articulate their views about ethical challenges and practice.

In a different case, through a special donation, St. Thomas offers significant scholarships to new Health Care MBA students who are employees of a specific health care organization.

Even though the hard costs of delivering an excellent graduate education keep going up, you will find that many institutions are working hard to find ways to help students find the resources to engage.

Ultimately, you should first consider the long-term personal value when considering an extension of your education. Your first question should involve finding the right program to change the trajectory of your career. Only then can you begin to calculate the options for covering tuition against the long-term impacts on your career.

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