Why Chipotle is spending millions to send its employees to college

SOURCE: Chipotle
The Chipotle Cultivate Education benefits programme is expanding to include debt-free college degrees.

By U2B Staff 

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When it comes to employment perks, most firms would dangle healthcare and retirement plans as recruitment carrots.

These are bread-and-butter benefits but, while attractive, do nothing to address the biggest concern of today’s workers: job displacement. 

The automation of tasks and jobs is no longer a “what if” question but a “when”, and its arrival to offices and factory floors will likely leave thousands of workers out of jobs.

To survive an automated world, these workers will need to upskill.

But dropping out of work to attend college or taking up a second or third job to pay for a degree qualification isn’t going to cut it for everyone, not especially when you consider how costly higher education can get. In the US, college debt is the biggest consumer debt category to weigh on the national economy, valued today at a record US$1.5 trillion. 


Recognising the difficulties facing its current workforce, a fast-casual restaurant chain is investing millions of dollars in a solution that will equip its employees with marketable skills and improve retention.

The chain, Chipotle Mexican Grill, is giving all eligible employees the opportunity to earn college degrees in up to 75 different areas of business and technology… for free.

This is all part of the expanded Chipotle Cultivate Education benefits programme and the result of a strategic partnership with Guild Education, a leading education benefits firm in the US. The enhancement adds to the over US$20 million in tuition assistance that Chipotle has already invested in its employees over the past two years.

“Chipotle recognises that financial barriers can be one of the biggest obstacles that impede our employees from achieving their fullest potential,” Chipotle Chief People Officer Marissa Andrada said in a media release.

“We are proud to launch this opportunity for debt-free degrees by providing free tuition to help our employees excel in all areas in their lives, both in and out of Chipotle.” 

Chipotle Benefits
Chipotle will cover 100 percent of tuition costs for its employees.

Why is Chipotle spending so much to educate its employees? And why in business and technology? 

Speaking to CNBC Make It, Andrada said education benefits are a great tool for employee satisfaction and retention, while the courses were selected because of their relevance to Chipotle’s plans for the future.

“If you think about those two spaces, it really plays into our growth plan for not only the company but our growth plan for our employees,” she pointed out.

Taking care of employees is also “the right thing to do” for businesses, Andrada said, especially as research has shown that the more academically qualified the person, the better his or her lifetime earnings.

Internally, Chipotle’s own studies show 90 percent higher retention among those who participate in the education benefits programme. More than that, the programme also increases their chances at promotion.

The company last year promoted more than 13,000 of its employees, a number it hopes to expand as it continues to upskill its workforce.


What makes the Chipotle benefits programme particularly attractive, both for recruitment and retention, is that to qualify, employees simply need to be employed by the company for at least 120 days. 

The partnership with Guild Education also gives them access to the firm’s network of universities and a wide range of degree options. For example, workers can choose to pick up degrees in critical fields from cybersecurity to supply chain logistics at the University of Arizona, Bellevue University, Brandman University, Southern New Hampshire University and Wilmington University.

Chipotle will cover 100 percent of tuition costs upfront. In addition, employees can also seek up to US$5,250 in tuition assistance reimbursements if they pursue a degree outside of the program run by Guild Education.

Guild Education CEO and Co-Founder Rachel Carlson described the partnership as a clear demonstration of Chipotle’s commitment to investing in its employees.

It is believed Chipotle is the first employer in the fast-casual industry to roll out such a programme. Elsewhere in the corporate space, firms like Walmart and Uber have introduced similar programmes for their employees.

“We are thrilled to partner with Chipotle as they continue to lead the way in the fast-casual industry for enhancing the employee experience with best-in-class benefits,” Carlson said.