Careers

McDonald's is tripling its college tuition benefit for employees

Last month, McDonald's made headlines for flipping the golden arches upside down in honor of International Women's Day. Now, McDonald's is catching the attention of workers by promising to revamp its college assistance program.

Since 2015, McDonald's has provided college tuition assistance to over 16,400 employees through its Archways to Opportunity education program. Last week, the fast food behemoth announced plans to increase the program by allocating $150 million over five years and lowering eligibility requirements from nine months to 90 days of employment and weekly shift minimums from 20 hours to 15 hours.

"This will provide almost 400,000 U.S. restaurant employees with accessibility to the program," says McDonald's spokesperson Andrea Abate to CNBC Make It.

Previously, eligible crew members could receive $700 a year to cover tuition costs at a trade school, community college or traditional four-year college. As of May 1st, eligible restaurant employees will have access to $2,500 a year and managers will have access to $3,000 a year.

Golden arches mark the entrance to a McDonald's restaurant in Shelbyville, Kentucky.
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Golden arches mark the entrance to a McDonald's restaurant in Shelbyville, Kentucky.

"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," says Steve Easterbrook, McDonald's President and CEO, in a statement. "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."

The statement also says that McDonalds' increased investment in the Archways to Opportunity program was "accelerated by changes in the U.S. tax law," referencing the 2017 tax cuts which slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

McDonald's is not alone in offering tuition assistance. Kathleen Coulombe, a Senior Advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), tells CNBC Make It that 61 percent of companies with 100 employees or more provide some education benefits.

"When we surveyed our employees, education support was one of the top three things they asked for," says Frank Tucker, Global Chief People Officer at Taco Bell in a statement. "The barriers to achieving their education goals were time, money and support."

Corporate Taco Bell employees, as well as employees at participating franchisees, have access to up to $5,250 per year in tuition assistance. At Chipotle, full-time and part-time employees can receive up to $5,250 a year in corporate tuition assistance.

Even with benefits such as these, workers in the fast food industry often struggle to make ends meet, and many workers have doubts about the promises McDonald's makes to employees.

In 2015, amid nation-wide union protests known as the "Fight for $15," McDonald's announced that it would set the starting pay for 90,000 workers at company-owned restaurants in the U.S. at one dollar over the local minimum wage.

"I'm taking action to make McDonald's a modern, progressive burger company," said Easterbrook at the time.

However, many workers report that McDonald's wages have not kept pace with rising minimum wages. "McDonald's publicity stunt has turned out to be a sham," said an employee named Kuper in a statement sent to CBS.

Kuper makes $11.40 an hour in Chicago, where the minimum wage is $11. Even if McDonald's compensated Kuper with a $12 hourly wage, he would earn less than $25,000 a year working full-time.

According to Glassdoor, the average McDonald's restaurant employee earns closer to $9 an hour and, according to most recent figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, it costs $25,409 a year to attend a traditional four-year college.

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