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How QSR Chains Are Using Tuition Benefits to Attract and Retain Employees

Chipotle is the latest quick service brand to roll out a tuition assistance program for employees.

Chipotle Mexican Grill has announced a partnership with Guild Education to offer debt-free degrees in Agriculture, Culinary and Hospital to its employees. 

After 120 days of employment, employees at the corporate-owned chain are eligible to pursue degrees from The University of Arizona, Bellevue University, Brandman University, Paul Quinn College, Southern New Hampshire University, Wilmington University, the University of Denver,  Johnson & Wales University and Oregon State University.

In 2019, Chipotle announced an expansion of its Cultivate Education benefits program to cover 100% of tuition costs upfront for degrees in business and technology.

“Diversifying our debt-free degree program with new majors and partner universities makes our educational benefits even more inclusive,” said Marissa Andrada, Chief Diversity, Inclusion and People Officer at Chipotle,in a press release. “Through our partnership with Guild, we are committed to accelerating our employees’ professional growth and helping them achieve personal success by offering opportunities to pursue career paths in their particular area of interest.”

Restaurant chains  — particularly QSR chains — have increasingly been using tuition benefits to attract hourly workers as a strategy for hiring, retention and increasing company loyalty. Now, with the economy set to take off again, attracting workers has become a top priority for many QSR chains.

Taco Bell, which is looking to hire 5,000 new employees, provides tuition discounts through Guild Education and up to $5,250 annually in tuition assistance.

McDonald’s, which is seeking 5,000 new employees in the state of Ohio alone, offers its hourly-paid workers up to $2,500 yearly in tuition assistance through its “Archway to Opportunity” program.

Other QSR chains that offer tuition assistance programs to employees include KFC (annual grants from $2,000-$2,500), Pizza Hut (discounted tuition at Excelsior College) and Chick-fil-A, which offers employees tuition discounts and grants that can be applied to more than 100 colleges and universities around the country.

The strategy has been paying off at Chipotle, which employs more than 60,000 people. The company says it’s seen a retention rate 3.5 times higher among students who are enrolled in their Cultivate Education program, and participants using the benefit are 7.5 times more likely to move into a management role within the organization.

“Chipotle’s debt-free degree program expansion highlights its deep commitment to employees’ economic opportunity and professional development,” said Guild Education President Natalie McCullough in the press release. “By expanding Cultivate Education to include a variety of programs aligned to the company’s mission, Chipotle is continuing to lead as an innovator in employee development and wellness.”