I’ll have a degree with my fries!

28 January 2022

Ian Hawkings reflects on the growing number of fast-food companies subsidising employees' higher education - another trend in the ever-changing business education landscape. 

Reading an article a couple of weeks ago about fast-food restaurants in the US that ‘pay for college’ or similar, set me thinking about the future of business education. The premise is that there are numerous chains – from globally recognized brands such as KFC and McDonalds, through to less well-known regional eateries such as Marco’s Pizza and Sheetz, that offer tuition assistance in one form or another.

Starbucks, for instance, offers employees in the US full tuition for Arizona State University's online bachelors programme, one that US News and World Report ranks 6th in the world for online undergraduate degrees. Under Starbucks' partnership with ASU, the company reimburses its employees' tuition and fee costs after the end of each semester and the programme is available to all benefits-eligible employees who have not previously earned a bachelor's degree.

Chilli’s - the casual dining chain of a million memes - also offers employees the opportunity to earn a degree online through their partnership with publishing company Pearson Education.

McDonalds announced in 2017 that it was pumping $150m into its ‘Archways to Opportunity’ programme which gives employees between $2,500-$3,000 annually to pay for study costs.

And Chipotle, a ‘fast-casual’ Mexican chain, offers to cover 100% of tuition for students who enrol in courses in agricultural science, hospitality, and supply chain management through education management company Guild Education.

This all got me thinking about the changing landscape in higher education. Throw in a squeezed labour-market, falling birth-rates, and the soaring cost of higher education across much of the world, and you can also see how this stands to benefit employers, education providers and employees alike.

Ten years ago KFC announced plans to offer ‘KFC degrees’ in partnership with DeMontfort University – so the idea itself is nothing new – but as the world moves increasingly online, with universities and a raft of new third-party providers exploring the merits of developing ever more digital content and ways to access it, it’s easy to see how schemes like this could proliferate exponentially in the years to come. Watch this space.

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