JetBlue to Offer Employees Free College Degrees

Posted By Eliana Osborn on April 19, 2016 at 2:43 pm
JetBlue to Offer Employees Free College Degrees
Image: Eddie Maloney, 2008

On April 18, JetBlue announced the expansion of a 200-person pilot program that provides college tuition for employees. And the airline is doing more than just reimbursing employees for taking college classes. Instead, the company will pay upfront for the full cost of an associate degree. This initial cohort group will only include those with previous college experience; to qualify, employees must have earned 16 college credits, about a semester’s worth.

More and more businesses are starting to see the benefit to retaining and recruiting employees through educational benefits. Most notably is the Starbucks partnership with Arizona State University for both full and part-time employees. Tuition is fully reimbursable, but students do have to pay the costs initially. Starbucks’ benefits cover all the way through a bachelor’s degree, and include advisement and support for the online classes. Other companies with similar initiatives include McDonald’s and Fiat Chrysler.

JetBlue’s program, called JetBlue Scholars, had originally launched as a pilot in August. It will offer degrees through Thomas Edison State University, where the full cost of an associate degree will be covered. Full-time JetBlue employees will have to shoulder some of the cost for a capstone course to receive a bachelor’s degree. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that fee to be $3,500, which can be covered by scholarships.

JetBlue Scholars also has additional resources to provide a boost to those who take advantage of the program. Students will work with a success coach from day one, who will help them transfer credits, get credits for work or life experience, and balance online courses with full-time work schedules.

This type of coaching or mentorship is being tied to financial opportunities in other venues as well. In Utah, the new Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) Promise covers the gap between financial aid and actual attendance costs—provided that students sit down and make a plan with a counselor before they enroll.  The significant costs of higher education are motivation enough to figure out a path to graduation for more students; any organization putting money into the system wisely wants to do everything possible to get students their degrees.

Targeted partnerships—where companies only allow students to earn credits from one university—are a common way of offering degree help. However, there are downsides, as limited areas of study may be available. An example is Fiat and Strayer University, where a negotiated tuition rate will reduce some of the cost and individual dealerships will kick in funds based on participation.

JetBlue is already known for its employee-friendly policies; Forbes listed it as #8 on its list of America’s Best Employers. Some of those who may benefit most from the JetBlue Scholars program may be pilots who will be able to earn course credit for training they’ve already received. jetblue

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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