If you’ve been contemplating returning to school, you’re probably aware of the benefits associated with a degree. For example, degree holders oftentimes qualify for rank promotions, which carry salary increases. And did you also know that law enforcement professionals with at least a four-year degree produce more positive outcomes on the job, including greater technical proficiency and advanced communication abilities? Before you reap those benefits, however, you have to get through the classes. Even before that, though, you have to calculate the costs. Earning a degree carries a substantial price tag, but there are resources are available to share some of that financial burden.
The first step in planning for college is adding up the total cost of attendance, which includes tuition, any fees and books. There are a few ways to save on these charges.
- Transfer credits: If you’ve accumulated college credits in the past, consult with university officials to see if they transfer, thereby lessening your current credit load.
- Credit for professional experiences: Some institutions equate knowledge gained on the job as a classroom equivalent. This can eliminate certain courses, which saves time and money.
- Course map: One of the costliest mistakes students make is signing up for unnecessary classes. Work with an academic advisor to create a flowchart of each semester to avoid falling off track.
If you qualify for grants, they don’t have to be paid back. Applications are usually made through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website, www.fafsa.ed.gov. The FAFSA website is also where to apply for federal financial aid, such as federal loans. There are three different types: subsidized, which defers interest until you stop attending school; unsubsidized, which accumulates interest during attendance, but like subsidized, defers payments until you stop attending; and Direct PLUS, which requires repayment immediately after funds are released. (Direct PLUS loans are usually granted to parents of students; however, they are also issued to graduate enrollees.) Stafford and Perkins loans also are available to graduate students. Amounts are based on income and need.
Apply as early as possible. The financial aid application period for the 2017–2018 school year opened October 1, 2016. Each school has its own calendar for awarding funds.
This is a critical financial resource for working professionals choosing to return to school. Be sure to confirm your department’s policy. When are the funds released — after each semester when grades are posted or upon completion of the degree? Do you have to commit to a number of years of service after earning the degree?
“A great benefit I get for working for the University of Arizona is we have a tuition assistance program for the employee and dependents to any of the three state universities,” says Sergeant Cindy Spasoff of the University of Arizona Police Department and member of Old Pueblo Lodge #51. “Due to the tuition discount, I have paid for my classes one semester at a time, which has helped with the costs.” (See the full interview with Sergeant Spasoff below.)
People may assume scholarships are restricted to students straight out of high school; however, nontraditional students are eligible, too. In fact, many funds are geared toward such populations. For example, veterans should search for military-related scholarships, which are numerous. The National Association of Chiefs of Police offers a Disabled Police Officers Fund Educational Scholarship. The American Legion Auxiliary grants nontraditional student scholarships for two- and four-year degrees. Be sure to check for scholarships offered by the school you plan to attend as well as conducting your own research on organizations that award them. The Grand Lodge Education Tuition Scholarship reimburses members attending a National Fraternal Order of Police University (NFOPU), and local lodges also may offer financial assistance. For more information about the FOP’s educational benefits, visit www.fop.net and click on the “Education” tab at the top of the page. For a full list of NFOPU schools, go to www.fopconnect.com/education-connect.
Keep in mind, numerous scholarships go unawarded every year. Apply for as many as possible, because organizations may loosen qualifications if they only receive a limited number of applicants.
Many financial advisors caution against taking out private loans to pay for school unless you’ve exhausted all other possibilities. Rather, inquire about drawing a loan from your retirement account. In essence, you’re borrowing from yourself and can repay yourself as you continue to contribute. However, it’s important to confirm that the withdrawal qualifies for an education tax exemption.
Also investigate loan forgiveness, which may be offered by universities as well as states and the federal government for those seeking careers in public service. Be aware that there may be a minimum employment commitment to avoid inheriting full financial responsibility.
Finally, consult your tax preparer. Various tax codes allow school expenses to be deducted, including unreimbursed work-related education fees.
Regardless of how you fund your education, you’re sure to enhance and positively influence the course of your career. Investing in yourself is always the wise choice!
Read this story in the Winter 2016 FOP Journal issue.
Interview: Educational Assistance
When employers offer financial incentives, it makes going back to school easier.
See why Sergeant Cindy Spasoff decided to use her employer’s tuition assistance program.
Even though Sergeant Cindy Spasoff, member of the Old Pueblo Lodge #51, hasn’t yet completed her Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Arizona State University (ASU), she’s already making plans to obtain a master’s degree. One of the reasons she’s so enthusiastic about education is the tuition assistance offered by her employer, the University of Arizona Police Department.
I attended Pima Community College 10 years ago and had obtained student loans. I decided I did not want to pay any more loans off, so I decided to pay as I go, even if it takes longer. A great benefit I get for working for the University of Arizona is a tuition assistance program for the employee and dependents to any of the three state universities. It’s great because any dependents can attend an Arizona university on the tuition discount.
I have looked at a few scholarships online for current police officers, but never applied for any. Due to getting a tuition discount for working at the University of Arizona, I have paid for my classes one semester at a time, which has helped with the costs. I take nine credits a semester, so I am not overloaded and can pay for my classes as I go.
The main reason I chose ASU online program is flexibility. Due to the profession being 24/7, I don’t always have a set schedule. I can get held over on calls and work 12- to 14-hour days. The flexibility of being able to do my classes in the middle of the night or the middle of the day really helps out. I have a family that I also love spending time with, so if the kids have a soccer game or event during the week, I can still school attend without losing family time because of a class. I can still go on vacation and do my homework while I am away due to the flexibility. That is the great benefit to online classes, doing homework while sitting on the beach in the Bahamas or on a cruise ship with my family!
I love taking my classes at ASU, and despite working for University of Arizona, which is their rival, I enjoy being part of two great universities. I learn so much from my classes that I can apply to my everyday job. I also implement my job into my discussions and homework.
I have learned you spend less money in online classes than traditional classes. Many of the resources you use for online classes are online and free. You can research your books ahead of time to purchase or rent them online at a cheaper cost than from the university bookstore. Plus, you don’t have to pay parking fees to park on campus or pay for lunch if you’re stuck at class all day. These may not be big costs, but every little bit helps.