Dollywood To Offer Free College Tuition to Employees, Following Walmart and Target

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Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park in Tennessee has joined a growing list of businesses — including Walmart and Target — in offering free tuition and other perks to associates to help them further their education.

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Herschend Enterprises, which owns Dollywood, will fund educational costs for all full-time, part-time and seasonal employees at the theme park as well as other subsidiaries such as the Harlem Globetrotters, the company said in a Feb. 8 press release.

The program, called GROW U., is open to all of the company’s 11,000 employees and will cover 100% of tuition, fees and books. It 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,” said Herschend CEO Andrew Wexler. “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.”

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The program will offer employees access to more than 100 fully funded diploma, degree and certificate programs across 30 learning partners in Guild’s Learning Marketplace. Among the programs are business administration and leadership, culinary arts, finance, technology and marketing.

Herschend will also provide partial funding, up to $5,250 a year, for 150 additional programs in fields like hospitality, engineering, human resources and art design.

“With this program, Herschend is preparing its workforce for the jobs of the future with new skills and mobility opportunities,” said Natalie McCullough, president and chief commercial officer of Guild Education.

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Dollywood — named after the country music icon, who sits on the company’s board — follows similar initiatives by other corporations to pay educational expenses for employees, partly as a way to become more competitive in the tight labor market.

In July, Walmart announced it will pay 100% of college tuition and books for associates through its Live Better U (LBU) education program. The retail giant also said it will invest nearly $1 billion over the next five years in career-driven training and development.

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A month later, Target rolled out an initiative that covers tuition, textbooks and fees for qualifying undergraduate degrees at more than 40 higher education institutions, along with up to $10,000 each year for master’s programs at the qualifying schools and universities.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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