Free college degrees for Chipotle employees

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Forget free meals and flexible scheduling; employees at Chipotle can go to college for free.

The Mexican-inspired restaurant chain announced the launch of its newest employee benefit on Tuesday, which will grant its more than 80,000 employees access to 75 business and technology degree programs funded entirely by the company. Employees can earn their associates or bachelor degrees online from the University of Arizona, Bellevue University, Brandman University, Southern New Hampshire University and Wilmington University.

“Chipotle recognizes that financial barriers can be one of the biggest obstacles that impede our employees from achieving their fullest potential,” said Marissa Andrada, chief people officer at Chipotle, in a statement Tuesday. “We are proud to launch this opportunity for debt-free degrees by providing free tuition to help our employees excel in all areas in their lives, both in and out of Chipotle.”

Employees are eligible to participate in the program after working for 120 days. A Chipotle spokesperson said the company chose to fund business and technology programs after conducting an employee survey, which found that those were the most sought-after degrees. Programs like marketing, project management, web development and computer science fall under the business and technology umbrella.

The company’s latest benefit is an expansion of the Chipotle Cultivate Education program, which reimburses qualifying employees for up to $5,250 to pursue the higher education program of their choice. Chipotle’s new 100% company-funded education benefit won’t cancel out the existing program; it’s part of the company’s continuing effort to attract and retain food industry talent.

Chipotle employees said taking advantage of Chipotle’s existing tuition reimbursement benefit made pursuing their degree a reality, instead of a dream. Chipotle estimates that 63% of employees who use the benefit are first-generation college students.

“I had two majors with a number of credits and was debating whether or not to go back and pursue my degree,” said Brice Widger, a Chipotle crew member in New York City. “The accelerated program with Bellevue University combined with Chipotle’s tuition assistance made the decision easy. It is convenient as I am able to take classes in the evening, which I really appreciate.”

Chipotle is providing the new benefit through a partnership with Guild Education — a Denver-based education benefit provider. Guild also partners with Fortune 1,000 employers to provide education benefits to around 10,000 employees across the United States.

“This expansion of Chipotle’s Cultivate Education benefits program to cover 100% tuition costs upfront for degrees in business and technology represents the company’s commitment to upskilling its workforce and helping employees achieve their professional goals,” said Rachel Carlson, Guild Education CEO and co-founder. “We are thrilled to partner with Chipotle as they continue to lead the way in the fast-casual industry for enhancing the employee experience with best-in-class benefits.”

Chipotle’s new education benefit comes on the heels of its new bonus program, announced in June, where employees can earn up to a week’s worth of extra pay each quarter. The company paid $700,000 in worker bonuses last quarter. Employees also have access to free English-as-a-second-language classes, fitness discounts and healthcare benefits.

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