COLLABORATION

New deal gives all US Uber drivers access to free university education

SOURCE: Uber/ASU
Uber and ASU's free education programme is now open to all US drivers.


By U2B Staff 

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Every Uber driver in the US and their families will now have the opportunity to receive a free university education, thanks to an expanded partnership with Arizona State University (ASU).

The corporate sponsorship programme grants eligible drivers and their families access to 100 percent tuition coverage for more than 80 online degrees offered by ASU, plus certificates in entrepreneurship and English language learning.

Applicants can earn an undergraduate degree through ASU Online or opt for a non-degree course under the university’s Continuing and Professional Education programme.

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The initiative was first rolled out last November in eight cities–Chicago, Denver, New Jersey, New Orleans, Orlando, Phoenix, Seattle, and Tampa. Under the pilot, the firm estimated that some 10,000 drivers would be eligible.

To qualify, drivers must complete at least 3,000 rides and maintain a 4.85 rating for three months, which would put them in platinum or diamond status. Once they achieve that, they will then be eligible for six months of tuition coverage.

Should they lose that status, the drivers will be given a three-month grace period to finish their classes. 

As for their families, those eligible will be a spouse or domestic partner, child, sibling, parent or legal guardian, or a dependent. The requirements also stipulate that driver-partners are to pay applicable income taxes on the tuition coverage, as well as the costs of books and computer or technology services.

According to ASU, the programme is similar to the school’s tuition-reimbursement programme with Starbucks, only the Uber partnership is broader as it includes the drivers’ family members.

Corporate-sponsored programmes offering free university education to employees are growing increasingly popular these days, used by businesses as a tool to upskill and retain talents within their organisation.

As labour market conditions grow increasingly harder for job seekers, these initiatives are not only timely but they offer today’s workforces opportunities to pick up a new skill without racking up tuition debt.

It’s no secret that America is facing a major college debt crisis. Tuition fees in the country more than doubled over the past two decades, leading the national student debt total to hit record levels at a staggering US$1.5 trillion.

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In the case of Uber, the initiative does more than offer its drivers and their family a debt-free university education. It also forms part of the ride-hailing giant’s initiative to repair its relationship with its drivers. 

Driver turnover at Uber is very high, according to a recent study, with 68 percent leaving the platform after six months. As independent contractors, ride-hailing drivers don’t receive the benefits and protections of salaried employment. 

Whilst this offers them flexibility, some say it puts them at the mercy of the firm’s algorithms. For the company, loyalty will always be an issue.

The education programme, however, could help change that narrative a little. And the flexibility that the programme offers is what makes it so attractive to Uber’s partners.

Uber ASU education
Uber is rewarding its best drivers by sponsoring their college education. Source: Uber/ASU

Emily Kuckelman who drives for Uber in Denver said when the programme first debuted, she was working two jobs. The Uber gig, she tells ASU News, was her second gig, while teaching was her first.

“I was in this place where I had decided to stop teaching and I was looking for my next career, but I didn’t want to go into terrible student debt to go back to school,” she said.

Kuckelman is now pursuing a Bachelor of Science in graphic information technology and hopes the education will land her a career in user-experience design.

She is also balancing driving with studying.