Dough & Degrees | Papa John's 'free' virtual education benefit is delivering delicious gains in recruitment & retention

Papa John's 'free' virtual education benefit is delivering delicious gains in recruitment & retention

Papa John’s ‘free’ education benefit has been hugely valuable in recruiting and retaining front-line staff, the pizza chain’s Chief People & Diversity Officer has revealed.

The “Dough & Degrees” program, launched in 2019, allows workers to finish high school, earn a bachelor's or master’s degree, or achieve another professional certificate; and offers employees tuition reimbursement, student loan repayment, or even free education to help them do so.

Workers must work at least 10 hours per week and to have been employed at Papa John’s for 60 days to qualify for the program.

Over 600 employees have participated in the program since 2019, which is run in partnership with EdAssist, an education benefits provider.

In that time, Papa John’s says it has spent over $3.5 million on offering debt-free education to its workforce.

Speaking to Fortune, Elias Reyna, Papa John’s Chief People & Diversity Officer, says the program has been hugely valuable for the pizza chain’s recruitment of front-line workers, who make up 80% of the program’s participants.

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“At the restaurant level particularly, it’s been a tool for them to attract talent to the organization,” Reyna states.

Fortune’s report also notes Dough & Degrees has been a valuable retention driver. 78% of the 600-plus participants are still employed at Papa John’s, and front-line workers who are in the program stay with the company for twice as long as those who are not.

Moreover, the program feeds into skills and career development for its workers. 29% of the program’s participants have been promoted after starting the program, and 35% have earned or are currently seeking a degree in business.

Employees enrolled in the Dough & Degree scheme say their extra education has helped improve their performance.

“I had an associate’s degree, and I wanted to learn how to manage my department better, whether it was understanding accounting better, or understanding how to manage people better,” Kevin Moore, a production manager in Papa John’s quality control center tells Fortune.

Through the education benefit, Moore has achieved a lifelong dream to be the first college graduate in his family, having earned a bachelor's degree in business administration. “All of it came into play, and it’s paid off,” he adds.

Daniel Ford, a maintenance manager at Papa John’s who earned his second bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity through the scheme, says he advocates the program to his team members because of the cost barriers it removes.

“I portray it to my employees [as] it’s a free education. Look around and see what an education costs you,” he says, noting that with full-covered tuition, workers no longer need to worry about being saddled with high costs or debt.

“Granted, it might just be something that you’re interested in and something you might not actually do [professionally], but it’s free,” Ford explains. “Why not?”

Numerous studies have pointed to the high proportion of people who believe the cost of attending college is too high, such as a Morning Consult Pro study which found 77% of US adults say a college degree would be difficult for someone like them to afford.

A similar report from Lumina Foundation revealed that over half of US adults believe cost is a “very important” reason for not enrolling or returning to college, and nearly one-third of enrolled students say they considered leaving school in the past six months due to high costs. 

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