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Starting in February, KFC employees will be eligible to receive a tuition-free degree from Western Governors University on their first day on the job.

KFC is the latest restaurant chain to offer college tuition coverage

More chains are offering educational benefits to attract and retain labor amid a historically tight market.

Starting in February, KFC restaurant employees will be eligible to receive a tuition-free degree from Western Governors University, an accredited online university focused on competency-based education versus semester completion. Through the partnership, KFC restaurant employees can choose from more than 60 different bachelor's and master's degree programs and certification programs. Employees are eligible on their first day on the job, and WGU also offers rolling start dates each month for flexibility to enroll at any time.

The new benefit is made possible through the KFC Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to support KFC employees through educational opportunities, hardship assistants, grants and more. It is funded by purchases of KFC’s Secret Recipe Fries, at-register round-up donations and other initiatives. In addition to the WGU tuition coverage program, the foundation is offering participating employees up to $20,000 in educational grants to attend the two- or four-year college, trade school or graduate school of their choice.

"Every year we look for new ways to support and enhance the lives of KFC restaurant employees," Emma Horn, executive director of the KFC Foundation, said in a statement. "What better opportunity to be able to offer team members than a flexible college degree program from Western Governors University that can fit seamlessly into their schedule. The program at WGU is perfect for someone who may not have enough hours in the day to balance a traditional college experience on top of a full- or part time- job and other life priorities."

KFC is the latest restaurant chain to offer tuition assistance to its employees as companies expand their benefits in a historically tight labor market. In 2015, McDonald’s introduced its Archways to Opportunity program, providing tuition assistance to managerial and hourly employees as part of a comprehensive package

Starbucks, Taco Bell, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, Mod Pizza, Raising Cane’s and Chick-fil-A also offer some type of tuition reimbursement program for their employees. In 2019, Chipotle partnered with Guild Education to cover upfront tuition costs for 75 different business and technology degrees at select universities. The coverage is part of Chipotle’s Cultivate Education program, created in 2016 to provide tuition reimbursement for eligible employees. According to Guild Education, the program yielded a 90% retention rate for employees enrolled. Further, Chipotle notes that crew members using the Cultivate Education benefit are 7.5 times more likely to move into a management role with the organization.

These types of programs could provide a long-term incentive for employees – those who earn a bachelor’s degree earn about $32,000 more annually than those whose highest degree is a high school diploma, according to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. However, financial barriers are one of the biggest deterrents of attending college.

For KFC, its new partnership with WGU is also an extension of the company’s existing efforts in which the foundation offers college tuition aid through its REACH Educational program.

"Together with our franchisees, we seek to create meaningful career growth and employee development opportunities for our restaurant teams every day," Karen Ancira, chief people officer, KFC U.S. and KFC Foundation board member, said in a statement. "Whether it's the opportunity to earn a GED for free, a scholarship to the educational institution of their choice, or 100% tuition to WGU, our restaurant teams now have more options than ever to grow their careers with KFC or pursue any career they wish." 

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

TAGS: Workforce
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