The Walt Disney Company announced this week that it is now offering to pay full tuition for its hourly workers to earn a college degree, complete a high school diploma, or learn a new skill. In a blog post on the company’s website, Jayne Parker, senior executive vice president & chief HR officer, called the “Disney Aspire” initiative “the most comprehensive program of its kind,” adding that it would cover 100 percent of tuition upfront and reimburse employees for application fees and required books and materials. The program covers a wide range of educational endeavors, she noted:
The program is designed for working adults and offers our Cast Members and employees maximum choice and flexibility with their studies, regardless of whether the program and classes they choose are tied to their current role at Disney. Disney Aspire includes a network of schools that offer a wide array of disciplines and diplomas—including college and master’s degrees, high school equivalency, English-language learning, vocational training and more.
More than 80,000 Disney employees are eligible to participate in the program, which the company is implementing in partnership with Guild Education, an online adult education platform that helps companies provide tuition assistance and other education benefits. Other US employers with large numbers of hourly workers have partnered with Guild to provide tuition benefits, including the fast food chains Chipotle and Taco Bell, the retail giant Walmart, and the home improvement retailer Lowe’s. McDonald’s expanded its education benefit, a partnership with Cengage Learning, earlier this year, while Chick-fil-A increased the number of scholarships it was awarding though its longstanding annual program.
The credit card company Discover has launched a new program that will pay for its 16,500 employees to earn bachelor’s degrees from three partner universities in certain business- and technology-focused majors at no cost to them. Fortune’s Lucinda Shen reported about the announcement on Tuesday:
Discover says the new program, dubbed The Discover College Commitment, will cover tuition, fees, books, and supplies for U.S.-based employees. The credit card issuer will offer a full-ride specifically for courses in cybersecurity, business, and computer sciences—burgeoning areas that the firm believes could strengthen its own business while also providing a long and stable career for its workers. …
Additionally, Discover plans to cover any income taxes that may be placed on employees due to the program. Due to IRS regulations, employers may only offer up $5,250 in tuition benefits to workers tax-free.
All employees are eligible, provided they work at least 30 hours a week for the company and have not been flagged for conduct issues or severe underperformance. Discover employees can complete their degrees at the University of Florida, Wilmington University, or Brandman University. The program is similar to one just launched by Walmart late last month, which also covers online or on-campus at University of Florida, Brandman University, or Bellevue University. Walmart’s benefit allows employees to study supply chain management or business at an out-of-pocket cost of $1 per day.
Walmart, the world’s largest private employer, announced at its annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday that it was introducing a new benefit for its 1.4 million employees in the US that will subsidize the cost of their college educations at any of three partner universities, the New York Times reports:
The giant retailer said it would pay tuition for its workers to enroll in college courses, online or on campus, to earn degrees in either supply chain management or business. Full- and part-time Walmart workers can use the subsidy to take courses at the University of Florida; Brandman University in Irvine, Calif.; and Bellevue University in Bellevue, Neb.
The three universities were chosen because of their high graduation rates, particularly among part-time students, and their experience with those already in the work force, Walmart executives said. The Walmart employees will not be obligated to continue working for the company after they get their degrees, and must put up only $1 a day toward the cost of classes.
Walmart says its goal with this benefit is to enable employees to obtain college degrees without taking out loans, in contrast to some other organizations’ tuition benefit programs, which require employees to pay their tuition up front and then seek reimbursement from the company. All Walmart employees become eligible for the benefit after 90 days at the company and are under no obligation to continue working there after they have earned their degrees.
The American fast food chain Chick-fil-A recently announced that it was awarding $14.5 million in scholarships to over 5,700 of its employees across the country this year:
The investment in this year’s program marks a $5.7 million increase since 2017 and is the one of the highest unrestricted per-employee scholarship investments in the industry. Team Members who are beginning or continuing their higher education will be awarded scholarships in the amount of $2,500 or $25,000.
Chick-fil-A’s “Remarkable Futures” education initiative allows students employed by the company’s local franchise Operators to receive up to $25,000 in scholarships that can be applied for any area of study at any accredited institution of their choice, including any two- or four-year colleges and universities, online programs or technical/vocational schools. There is no requirement of hours worked or length of service to qualify. In addition to $14.5 million in scholarships, all of Chick-fil-A’s 120,000 Team Members also have access to tuition discounts and other educational benefits at 100 colleges and universities nationwide.
Chick-fil-A, which has been awarding college scholarships since the 1970s, has provided more than $60.5 million in education funding for nearly 46,700 employees over the years. The company launched the Remarkable Futures program in 2016 to expand this initiative considerably, more than doubling the amount of funding it would provide for employees’ educations.
CommonBond, a financial technology company specializing in student loan refinancing and consolidation, recently surveyed 1,500 employees and 500 HR executives across the US to see how student loan debt assistance fits into employers’ financial wellbeing strategies and how well these programs were really meeting the needs of employees. The results of the survey indicate that student debt has a significant impact on the entire American workforce—not just millennials—and that organizations could make a big difference to their employees’ financial health by focusing financial wellness benefits on this form of debt.
Needless to say, CommonBond has a business interest in reaching that conclusion, but its findings happen to dovetail with what we already know from previous studies and our ongoing research at CEB, now Gartner, on global trends in education benefits.
Perhaps the most important of CommonBond’s findings is that 78 percent of employees who currently have or expect to accrue student loan debt want their employer to offer a student debt repayment benefit, including 65 percent of employees in this category over the age of 55. Among employees with student debt, repayment assistance is the most commonly requested financial wellness benefit, CommonBond found, yet HR leaders rank it as their third priority.
In our most recent survey of over 6,000 employees across the globe, we also found that employees value these benefits highly: 61 percent of employees see education benefits as an important factor in making a decision about a job offer. Of the organizations that offer education benefits, 90 percent provide tuition assistance—which has proven hugely successful at organizations from Cigna to Chipotle—but only 7 percent provide student loan reimbursement.
(CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members should stay tuned, as more insights on education benefits from our annual benefits communication survey will be released next month.)
McDonald’s announced last week that it was expanding its education benefits program for employees to both increase the value of the benefit and widen the pool of employees who are eligible for it, USA Today reported on Thursday:
Previously, employees had to be on the job for nine months before having a shot at tuition assistance, but that’s been dropped to 90 days. Plus, the weekly shift minimum was 20 hours and now is 15 hours. The changes will make close to 400,000 U.S. employees eligible, the company said. Now, staffers can get as much as $2,500 a year from the Archways to Opportunity program for a trade school, a community college or a four-year university — up from $700. For managers, the figure jumps from $1,050 per year to $3,000.
Some employees’ family members will also now be eligible for assistance. The changes, which McDonald’s attributed to a tight labor market and the savings it accrued from the recent cut in the corporate tax rate, are funded by a $150 million commitment the fast-food giant is making to the program over the coming five years. Since launching in 2015, the company says, Archways to Opportunity has distributed over $21 million in assistance to around 24,000 people.
The program, which is open to employees of both McDonald’s franchises and company-owned restaurants, is offered in partnership with the online education company Cengage Learning. Amanda Eisenberg goes into more detail about how the expanded program will work at Employee Benefit News:
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.