By Jenna Robinson
This morning as I was waiting in the McDonald’s drive-thru for my large Diet Coke, I noticed a sign. In addition to informing potential applicants that the restaurant is “Now Hiring!” it also mentioned the company’s “Archways to Opportunity” program—a program that pays for McDonald’s employees’ college tuition.
McDonald’s website describes the program:
As of May 2018, we are tripling our investment in the Archways to Opportunity education program. Over the next five years, we will invest $150 million to give restaurant employees more money for college and more flexibility to study and work at the same time. Restaurant employees are now eligible after just 90 days of service, working at least 15 hours per week. We’re even expanding the Career Online High School and College Advisory Services to restaurant employees’ family members.
The program allows McDonald’s employees to finish a high school diploma, master English language skills, or earn a college degree. It also helps employees make plans to advance in the company with restaurant employee education programs.
Fast food restaurants are a common place for individuals without much education to work. But they can be more than that—the bottom rung on the ladder of economic opportunity. And for many low-income students, this may be a better way to approach higher education than accepting student loans. Too often, low-income students attend schools with low graduation rates, high student loan default rates, and a track record of students who end up worse off than if they had never attended college at all.
Archways to Opportunity will pay up to $2,500 per year for tuition—enough to enroll full-time at a community college. (Tuition and fees at the community college in my county are $1,068 per semester for students taking 12 hours of coursework.)
“Our commitment to education reinforces our ongoing support of the people who play a crucial role in our journey to build a better McDonald’s,” said Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s President and CEO. “By offering restaurant employees more opportunities to further their education and pursue their career aspirations, we are helping them find their full potential, whether that’s at McDonald’s or elsewhere.”
McDonald’s program meets students where they are and offers them multiple pathways to success. It doesn’t funnel everyone into a one-size-fits-all plan. It’s a refreshing and useful program in a world where “college for all” is still a common policy prescription.