Company behind Dollywood to pay full tuition for employees

The company behind some of the nation’s biggest entertainment experiences is offering a new program to its employees seeking higher education. 

Herschend Enterprises on Tuesday announced that it will cover 100% of tuition, book costs and fees for any employee – including seasonal hires, as well as part-time and full-time workers – who choose to seek to further their education. 

The offer covers Herschend’s 11,000 employees across its over two dozen attractions, which include the The Harlem Globetrotters, Dollywood Parks & Resorts in Tennessee, Kentucky’s Newport Aquarium and Kentucky Kingdom, Wild Adventures in Georgia and more.

The program will officially launch on Feb. 24. 

“Whether it’s to pursue a new dream or advance their career with us, we care about our employees’ personal and professional growth, because we believe that their futures should be grown with love, not loans,”  Andrew Wexler, CEO of Herschend Enterprises, wrote in a statement. “Our team members’ success is our success – and that’s why we’re thrilled to make this benefit available to all, regardless of their role in the company and without the burden of debt.” 

The program, dubbed GROW U., will occur in partnership with Guild Education, an online platform that helps workers gain skills and education across a number of sectors. Herschend Enterprises will fully fund education through 30 of the Guild’s “learning providers,” primarily in the areas of business administration, leadership, culinary, finance, technology and marketing. 

The company will also offer partial funding of up to $5,250 per year for another 150 programs in fields like hospitality, engineering, human resources and art design. 

A number of other major corporations have announced similar partnerships with the Denver-based education startup in recent years. Walmart, Taco Bell, Target and Chipotle are among the retail and restaurant chains soliciting skillbuilding and education services from the Guild. 

Target in August announced plans to spend $200 million over the next four years to offer its workers free undergraduate and associate degree programs as well as certificates in business-oriented majors at select institutions such as University of Arizona and University of Denver. Textbooks will also be free for Target employees

Target’s program, which launched last fall, will be available for more than 340,000 U.S.-based part-time and full-time students. Workers, including those on the first day on the job, can attend classes at more than 40 schools, colleges and universities. They can choose from 250 business programs like computer science, operations and business management.

“A significant number of our hourly team members build their careers at Target, and we know many would like to pursue additional education opportunities,” said Melissa Kremer, chief human resources officer at Target in a statement. “We don’t want the cost to be a barrier for anyone.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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