America is facing a college affordability crisis, and it could worsen as higher education costs increase. Students today pay 213 percent more at public four-year institutions than they did 30 years ago – and have an all-time high amount of student loan debt to prove it. In fact, the average Class of 2016 graduate has more than $35,000 in student loan debt, contributing to the national $1.4 trillion in U.S. student loan debt, up from $260 billion in 2004.
In addition to financial barriers, support and time can also be barriers to completing education. Without support, many students struggle with things like picking a school, enrolling in classes and filling out financial aid forms – freshmen entering college in 2017 alone left $2.3 billion in financial aid on the table by not filling out FAFSA. Time is an issue for the 70 percent of students who take on part-time jobs during school to help ease the financial pressures that earning a degree brings. Juggling a class schedule and work schedule can present major prioritization challenges.
At the same time, Americans are experiencing so many roadblocks to post-secondary education, companies are also seeing a major roadblock to staffing. With unemployment at a 17-year low, the U.S. labor market is the tightest it has been in two decades, making it increasingly difficult for companies to hire and retain top talent. This means that employers need to do more to stand out from the competition.
When we surveyed our Taco Bell employees, education support was one of the top three things they wanted. We’ve long supported alternative education paths, creating jobs compatible with school programs and offering GED prep and testing for employees, but we believed a more comprehensive education offering could better equip our employees to meet their education goals and also help us attract and hire critical new talent.
That’s why we made the decision to partner with Guild Education to provide education benefits for all 210,000 corporate and franchise employees in the U.S. This partnership delivers on those three crucial needs – money, support and time – through access to online classes, financial aid guidance, tuition assistance and a personal education counselor. Results from our 2017 pilot indicate that this partnership will support increased hiring and retention of top talent and cost savings for the company – which means we are helping our employees reach their education goals, as well as helping Taco Bell’s bottom line.
From day one of each employee’s career at Taco Bell, they will have access to Guild’s coaches and discounts to its education partners that offer everything from master’s degrees to data science certificates to English-as-a-Second-Language programs. Taco Bell corporate employees, along with employees of participating franchisees, will also have access to up to $5,250 in tuition assistance, paid up front so that employees don’t have any out of pocket costs.
A job at a company like Taco Bell helps young people learn valuable life-long skills like customer service, how to work in a fast-paced environment, teamwork and leadership skills, and can take you from working the drive-thru to managing a $3 million restaurant. Access to education benefits on top of these growth opportunities will only further a young person’s potential in life. We want to help employees reach that potential, whether they start with us as a first job for three months or stay with us for three decades.
I urge other employers to consider the role that education benefits can play in the ultimate success of America’s youth. Not only do you have the power to help more people reach their goals, but you may just find that it can have a positive impact on your company’s ultimate success, too.