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6 companies offering free tuition to employees, from Dollywood to Starbucks

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A growing list of companies are offering employees an exciting new perk to win the war for talent: free tuition. 

Some businesses introduced tuition reimbursement programs long before the coronavirus pandemic, but the benefit has become more popular in recent months as employers struggle to attract and retain workers in a tight labor market.

Just last week Herschend Enterprises, which oversees Dollywood, Dolly Parton's theme park and resort, announced that they will cover the full cost of tuition, fees and books for employees who want to further their education starting Feb. 24. 

The initiative, called GROW U, covers about 11,000 employees across Herschend's 25 U.S. attractions including the Harlem Globetrotters, New Jersey's Adventure Aquarium and Kentucky Kingdom. All seasonal, part-time and full-time employees are eligible to enroll in the program starting on their first day at work. 

Workers can choose between different diploma, degree and certificate programs in a wide range of subjects such as business administration and leadership, finance, marketing, technology and culinary studies. Courses are listed through Guild Education, an online platform that Fortune 100 companies such as Walmart and Disney have partnered with to design their own education benefit programs. 

The ongoing pandemic has "shone a greater light on workforce education," Dr. Jill Buban, the vice president and general manager of EdAssist Solutions, told CNBC Make It in September. Recent research from EdAssist Solutions shows that 45% of American workers feel their education has become increasingly important for their growth over the past year and 30% listed cost as the biggest barrier holding them back from getting a degree. 

Offering free tuition can help lower quitting rates by supporting employees' aspirations and cultivating loyalty. Jack Hartung, Chipotle's chief financial officer, told CNBC in April that employees who participated in the tuition program were about three times more likely to stay with the company and seven times more likely to become managers than those who didn't. 

Here are 5 more companies providing free college tuition to their employees:

Amazon 

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In September, Amazon announced that it would cover the full cost of tuition, fees and textbooks for its front-line operations employees after 90 days on the job. It will also fund high school diploma programs, GEDs and English as a Second Language (ESL) proficiency certifications. The benefit, which kicked off in January, applies to "hundreds of education partners" across the U.S., the retail giant said in its announcement.

Target

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Target has pledged to pay 100% of the tuition and textbook expenses for more than 340,000 employees pursuing an associate or undergraduate degree as well as other business certifications. Employees are eligible for the program starting on their first day of work and can choose from a list of more than 40 schools including the University of Arizona and Morehouse College. 

Walmart

Artur Widak | NurPhoto | Getty Images

In August Walmart dropped the $1-per-day fee for its Live Better U education program and now pays the full cost of college tuition and books for employees. About 1.5 million part-time and full-time employees are eligible for the benefit which includes programs at 10 schools including Johnson & Wales University and the University of Denver. 

Starbucks

Alex Tai/SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

Starbucks has been a long-time proponent of free tuition for employees, launching its Starbucks College Achievement Plan (SCAP) back in 2014. Through SCAP, all U.S.-based part-time and full-time employees receive 100% tuition coverage for a bachelor's degree through Arizona State University's online program. 

Chipotle

Signage is displayed outside a Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. restaurant in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Monday, July 20, 2020. Chipotle is scheduled to release earnings figures on July 22.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Chipotle first introduced its free tuition program in 2019, covering the full tuition costs for employees to earn a bachelor or associate's degree in 75 different business and technology fields through its partnership with Guild Education. To qualify, Chipotle employees must have worked at the company for at least 120 days. In April, the fast-food chain expanded this benefit to include agriculture, culinary, and hospitality degrees from Oregon State University and Johnson & Wales University.

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