Taco Bell announced this week that after piloting a program to provide employees at 700 of its restaurants with education benefits in partnership with Guild Education, the fast-food chain is expanding the program to 210,000 employees at its 7,000 locations, including many franchises, Amanda Eisenberg reports at Employee Benefit News:
Through Guild Education’s reduced-cost courses and degree programs, both corporate and hourly Taco Bell workers have access to more than 2,000 classes and programs in their pursuit of undergraduate or graduate degrees, college-level education, a GED, or mastery of English as a second language. Combined with the company’s education benefit of up to $5,250 in tuition assistance, paid upfront, and access to federal financial aid, employees are expected to pay little to nothing for the benefit. …
Two thousand Taco Bell employees enrolled in the nine-month pilot program, and 98% of those employees stayed at the company for more than six months, says Rachel Carlson, CEO and co-founder of Guild Education. “That’s phenomenal, especially in fast casual,” she says, noting the retention rates of workers in the program were 34% higher than those who were not enrolled.
Taco Bell took inspiration for its education benefit from Chipotle, which also partnered with Guild Education to help its employees finish college, and McDonald’s, whose employees can earn high school diplomas through the company’s “Archways to Opportunity” program, a partnership with Cengage Learning.
Education benefits are increasingly popular, especially among companies with large numbers of employees with low levels of skill and education, as they can produce a significant return on investment in the form of employee retention. In today’s tight labor market, US employers with traditionally high-turnover business models have discovered that retaining and developing even low-skill, entry-level employees is more cost-effective than periodically replacing them. Tuition and student loan repayment benefits are also popular with employees, especially millennials who are struggling with a major burden of student debt.
These benefits have caught on in other sectors as well, with employers offering both traditional and vocational education opportunities. The home improvement retailer Lowe’s recently unveiled a program, also through Guild Education, that offers offer up-front tuition payments for employees to enroll in training programs for skilled trades such as carpentry, plumbing, and appliance repair. JetBlue established a college degree program for employees in partnership with Thomas Edison State University in Trenton, New Jersey, while Cigna offers employees broad tuition reimbursement benefit for undergraduate and graduate programs, which generated a return of $1.29 for every dollar spent between 2012 and 2014, according to a study by Accenture.