Companies Offer Employees a Free Ride for College – With Some Strings

Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on October 21, 2016 at 10:20 am
Companies Offer Employees a Free Ride for College – With Some Strings

College is expensive and businesses know that, which is why some companies offer employees assistance pursuing a degree. At last count, 55 percent of companies polled by the Society for Human Resource Management provided the benefit at the undergraduate level and 52 percent provided it with graduate degrees.

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans  says the rate is even higher: It found 83 percent of surveyed companies offer it. One in three include part-time salaried and hourly workers.

For the businesses, it’s not all about being altruistic. There are clear reasons companies offer assistance, including recruitment and retention. “It helps not only the employee with career development, but also the organization by developing a more educated workforce,” says Tanya Mulvey, SHRM researcher for talent management and workforce skills.

How much help do companies offer for college?

The answer is unique to the individual business. A company’s size and cash flow are factors, and  most businesses invoke terms and conditions on their awards. The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found 71 percent of companies limit educational benefits to a fixed annual amount while 54 percent require coursework to be related to their industry. The average annual contribution from a company: $5,000 to $6,999.

Working for a company to earn a degree can be a viable option, but employees must make sure the job is the right fit. That’s because if you leave the company, you’ll likely be on the hook to repay the employer in many cases.  “Any time an employer offers tuition reimbursement, though, it’s to an employee’s advantage to take advantage of it,” says Vanessa Hill, senior media affairs specialist at Society for Human Resource Management. “Free tuition is never a bad thing and if you have to agree to a few employer terms to get it, it’s well worth it. You’ll have the opportunity to advance your career, and it may land you a promotion and/or salary increase at your current company.”

Options abound when landing a job at a company with tuition assistance. But there are standouts that go above and beyond. Some partner with schools to give employees a free ride; others are being overly generous with what they cover. With that in mind here’s a look at five of them.


The coffee chain giant is known for being a good place to work, but what may appeal to employees beyond the free java is its collaboration with Arizona State University. Full- and part-time workers in the U.S. get full tuition coverage each year to earn a bachelor degree through Arizona State’s online program.

Employees get a team of coaches and advisers and free tutoring. Workers can choose from more than fifty undergraduate degrees. Starbucks recently expanded the program to cover veterans and their families.


Taking a page from Starbucks, health insurer Anthem also offers its 55,000 full and part-time employees free tuition for an associate or bachelor’s degree via the College for America at Southern New Hampshire University.  College for America is an accredited online degree program that costs $2,500 per year or less. Employees of Anthem have to work at least 20 hours a week and be employed for at least six months to take advantage of the benefit. There’s a catch: Anthem employees have to cover the costs and will get reimbursed.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

The trend of teaming up with colleges wasn’t lost on Fiat Chrysler, which last year announced a partnership with Strayer University in which the 118,000 employees at its Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram and Fiat dealerships can earn a degree for free. The offer is open to part and full-time workers who want to earn an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree program at Strayer University. The benefit also covers spouses and children.

Chipotle Mexican Grill

The fast food chain may have been bruised by its food-poisoning scandal, but it can still afford to help employees. The Mexican burrito purveyor and its partner Guild Education are kicking in around $10,000 for tuition each year. Guild Education offers online classes and more than 30 degrees from Colorado State University’s Global Campus, Bellevue University and Western Governors University. Chipotle says employees pay as little as $250 a year for college.

United Parcel Service

Part-time workers are the backbone of UPS, and its free college program is geared toward that demographic. Like many other companies, UPS sees its Earn and Learn Program as a way to stand out and to recruit part-time workers. Employees are eligible for $5,250 a year for a maximum of $25,000. The deal kicks in on day one and if the semester already started the benefits are prorated. UPS also offers Louisville, KY, employees a free ride at two local schools in exchange for working in the UPS Air Operation. A Chicago program requires employees to work the sunrise or night shift to go to college for free.

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for,,,, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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