Fidelity is the latest employer to offer free college education to workers

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Despite growing economic uncertainty, employers are still waging a talent war and employees are winning.

Now, more companies are expanding their benefits offerings with free college programs to attract and retain workers.

More recently, Fidelity Investments announced that it would offer fully funded undergraduate degrees to 18,000 employees, including entry-level customer service telephone representatives. The company, which already offered student debt repayment, will cover initial tuition, books and fees at select two- and four-year schools, avoiding the need for repayment.

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Other major financial institutions, including Citi and PNC, have announced similar deals this year.

About 38,000 frontline Citi consumer banking employees are eligible for its education benefits program, including free college. PNC’s education program is available to 62,000 employees.

“The war for talent is over,” PWC US President Tim Ryan said at the CNBC Work Summit last month. “Talent won.”

Coming out of the pandemic, these types of benefits play an important role in competing for workers, and as a result, more and more companies are providing opportunities to develop new skills, according to the recent Benefits Survey. employees of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Now, 48% of employers said they offer undergraduate or graduate tuition assistance as a benefit, according to this survey.

National pizza chain Daddy Johns also recently announced that it is offering fully funded degrees, as well as tuition assistance for associate’s and master’s degrees and professional certificate programs.

About 12,000 full-time and part-time frontline workers, including delivery drivers and kitchen staff who work as little as 10 hours a week, are eligible for the education benefits program, including free college, according to the company.

“Anywhere you can differentiate yourself is pretty critical,” said Marvin Boakye, Papa John’s director of human resources and diversity.

Wherever you can differentiate yourself is pretty critical.

Marvin Boakye doesn’t follow anyone. Autodesk_new

Papa John’s Director of Human Resources and Diversity

Other big names in the business, such as McDonald’s, T-Mobile, Amazon, Home deposit, Target, walmart, UPS, fedex, Chipotle and Starbucks, also have programs that help with back-to-school costs. Waste Management will not only pay for employees’ college degrees and professional certificates, but will also provide this same benefit to their spouses and children.

Of course, employers paying for their employees to graduate are nothing new. For decades, corporations have taken over college education and white-collar MBAs.

However, many companies are now extending this benefit to frontline workers — such as drivers, cashiers and hourly workers — while heavily promoting the offer more than before.

The benefits of education are ‘mutually beneficial’

For employers, education as a benefit is “mutually beneficial,” said Fidelity benefits manager Megan Bourque.

“For associates who pursued undergraduate education, they have greater retention, greater mobility within the organization, and also tend to perform better,” she said.

Chipotle Chief Financial Officer Jack Hartung told CNBC that employees who take advantage of the company’s free degrees are 3.5 times more likely to stay with the company and seven times more likely to advance to management.

Not only does free or discounted higher education improve recruitment and retention, it also reduces student debt while improving long-term employee well-being, experts say.

Chipotle CFO says debt-free degree is way to invest in employees

Despite the benefits and what research shows is a strong desire among respondents to return to school, less than half of employees said they had been able to pursue educational goals in the past few years, largely due to the time spent and financial barriers, according to Bright Horizons research.

The struggle is even greater among minority groups, Bright Horizons found: 44% of black employees said they struggled to pay for education, compared to 29% of white employees.

There is a similar gap between men and women. About 36% of working women report financial barriers to education, compared to 22% of men.

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