Clark Howard

Disney to pay 100% of tuition upfront for all hourly employees

The Walt Disney Company has a magical offer for hourly employees: It’s going to pay your way in full when you want to get an advanced degree, finish high school or learn a trade!

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Free tuition offer from Disney

Disney Aspire is the media company's new education initiative that offers to pay 100% of your tuition upfront — rather than through a reimbursement model — if you're an hourly employee.

According to a blog post, the company will spend $50 million this year and $25 million next year on the Aspire program. About 80,000 hourly workers, commonly called "Cast Members," will be eligible for the free tuition offer through Disney's partnership with Guild Education.

In addition to covering 100% of tuition upfront, the Aspire program will also reimburse you for application fees, textbooks and other materials. The goal is to remove roadblocks that might prevent an employee from going to school.

Through a network of schools, Disney and Guild Education will help put college and master’s degrees, GEDs, English-language classes and vocational training in reach of anyone who wants them. In addition to facilitating the actual education, Guild will also provide personalized coaching for Disney employees throughout the education process.

Perhaps the best part of all with the Disney Aspire program is that your course of study does not have to be tied in any way to your current role at the company. And there’s no obligation to continue working at Disney after you earn your degree.

“I know Disney Aspire will enable employees to reach their educational goals and pursue career aspirations — including movement into new roles at Disney, as well as careers outside of the Company,” Jayne Parker, Disney’s chief HR officer, notes in an interview.

“In terms of what employees and Cast Members will achieve with that — all I can say is the sky’s the limit!”

Other employers will foot the bill for you to go to school, too

Disney isn’t the only employer offering a free or nearly free ride to a college education or a trade school.

For example, Chipotle employees get 90% of tuition, books and fees reimbursed by the Mexican fast-food chain — up to the IRS limit of $5,250 per calendar year.

Kentucky Fried Chicken has the REACH Educational Grant Program for hourly team members and shift supervisors with at least six months of service. The program provides college tuition assistance via grants of $2,000 and $2,500. Grant recipients can attend any accredited two-year or four-year college or a trade/vocational school.

More recently, Walmart said it will begin subsidizing college tuition for its 1.4 million employees in the U.S. full- and part-time employees can enroll in courses in business or supply chain management either on campus or online at one of three universities: The University of Florida, Brandman University in Irvine, California, or Bellevue University in Bellevue, Nebraska.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Read about some other companies that will pay all or part of your education costs when you're an hourly worker here.

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