Most people go to college to land a good job, but because of skyrocketing tuition costs, several major employers are flipping the script by offering jobs that lead to college.
Chipotle, Disney, Starbucks and Walmart all offer education programs that will not just reimburse a capped amount of tuition but directly pay for your degree at select universities. Part-time workers are eligible, too.
In decades past, almost any part-time job would cover the costs of attending college. These days, stagnant wages and the soaring costs of education have made it nearly impossible to work your way through college without loads of debt.
Several big employers are stepping in to make that college dream attainable again. Here’s a rundown on how the programs work.
Jobs That Pay for College
Before you go and quit your current gig to become a burrito roller or barista, you need to know the particulars of each program.
Chipotle – All Benefits-Eligible Workers
Most part-timers and all regular full-time Chipotle workers have access to free college degrees and tuition reimbursement plans.
To qualify for college benefits, you’ll need to work Chipotle for at least 120 days and average 15 or more hours per week, according to Chipotle’s education benefits portal.
College benefits include free associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in 75 business and tech-related fields. The degrees must be earned from one of Chipotle’s partner non-profit universities. The company currently partners with the University of Arizona, Bellevue University, Brandman University, Southern New Hampshire University and Wilmington University, all of which have online options.
If you want to study outside of those five colleges, Chipotle also offers tuition reimbursement benefits of up to $5,250 per year.
Tuition benefits are just some of the perks available to part-timers. The company has been beefing up its benefits package for years. Chipotle also offers health, dental and vision insurance, accrued paid time off, sick leave, stock options and a 401(k) retirement plan.
Disney – All Hourly Workers
The Disney Aspire program covers100% of the tuition costs for hourly U.S. workers who want a bachelor’s or master’s degree from one of Disney’s partner universities.
Disney Aspire universities include the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida. All hourly cast members, regardless of location, can enroll in UF’s online programs. UCF is limited to Florida residents.
All of Disney’s hourly workers are eligible for the Aspire program after their first 90 days of employment. Disney also covers the cost of textbooks and high school diploma programs.
Starbucks – All Benefits-Eligible Workers
Starbucks has been ahead of the pack, offering its U.S. employees access to Arizona State University’s online bachelor’s degrees for years.
The landmark Starbucks College Achievement Plan (SCAP) launched in 2015 and is available to all benefits-eligible employees in the U.S., which is to say all employees after a certain amount of time.
According to the fine print of the SCAP program, employees are considered benefits-eligible after “the first day of the second month after receiving a minimum of 240 total hours over three full, consecutive months.”
In plainspeak that means part-time employees must be working at Starbucks or Starbucks-owned businesses for at least five months and have been scheduled to work at least 240 hours in the first three months. Benefits for full-time employees kick in sooner.
Arizona State University offers more than 100 different degrees online, and Starbucks will cover 100% of the tuition costs after scholarships and financial aid kick in. ASU first gives SCAP students a 42% scholarship, then the students get additional aid by filling out the FAFSA as part of the program. Starbucks covers the remaining tuition costs.
Other Starbucks-owned companies eligible for the program include Ethos Water, Evolution Fresh, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Tazo, Teavana and Torrefazione Italia Coffee.
Military service members and veterans can extend these benefits to certain family members.
SCAP doesn’t cover the cost of books or supplies.
Walmart and Sam’s Club – All Employees
Walmart is the largest employer in the country, with an estimated 1.5 million U.S. workers. Through its Live Better U program, all of them are eligible for specific degrees at six partner universities.
Current partner universities include Bellevue University, Brandman University, Purdue University Global, Southern New Hampshire University, University of Florida and Wilmington University — with each university offering fully online programs. Employees who live near a partner university may attend in-person, but the vast majority choose to attend online, a Walmart spokesperson said.
For bachelor’s degree seekers, the program is not 100% free, however. Employees pay $1 per day toward college tuition and Walmart covers the rest. Workers are limited to degrees in fields related to business, supply-chain management, computer science or cyber security.
College tuition is only one facet of Walmart’s education program. For high school student-employees, Walmart will cover the full cost of ACT or SAT prep classes, plus seven hours of college credit. Walmart also pays the costs of a high school diploma or GED program for employees who didn’t finish high school.
Additional perks through Live Better U include discounted master’s degrees and free foreign language classes. Eligible workers can also pass on these benefits to family members.
There are lots of different possibilities, so compare the different characteristics.
Sounds Great! Is There a Catch?
Side jobs that actually cover the costs of college tuition… finally! Just recognize the strings that are attached.
For Sandy Baum, a college affordability expert and a fellow at the Urban Institute, it’s hard to be critical of the idea of free college. But she says to pay careful attention to the fine print of these programs.
“Some of them pay upfront, some of them reimburse you — that’s a big difference. Some of them say you have to go to the same institutions, some of them have more options,” Baum said. “There are lots of different possibilities, so compare the different characteristics.”
Baum said a lot of these programs are great in theory, but prospective students should keep in mind their own individual needs in the process.
Learning online is difficult for students without strong academic backgrounds. Where possible, take advantage of on-campus classes and resources to stay motivated.
Employees of Walmart and Disney can consult education-benefits advisers through Guild Education, the company that manages both Disney Aspire and Live Better U. These advisers can help manage work-school-life balance and help employees navigate the nuances of choosing and enrolling at a university.
Regardless of the program, working students should take advantage of academic coaching directly from the university to discuss their unique academic needs once accepted.
Having your employer essentially choose your college or degree might not be the best way for everybody to approach higher education, Baum noted.
“It really depends on who you are, what things you want to learn and how the program is designed, [to know] whether or not a program is going to work out for you.”
Adam Hardy is a former staff writer at Codetic.