Burritos and Books: Chipotle Expands Educational Opportunities for Employees

By Food and Beverage FOXBusiness

Chipotle (CMG) is making news once again, but this time it’s not for foodborne illnesses. The fast casual chain is expanding its educational opportunities for employees through a partnership with Guild Education, a press release said Monday.

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Both full and part-time employees will be able to take advantage of online course offerings on top of Chipotle’s existing tuition reimbursement plan. Currently, Chipotle employees can receive tuition reimbursement of up to $5,250 a year and an additional $5,815 in federal grants for those who qualify. “One thing that we’re really big on with Chipotle is our people culture and we believe in investing in our employees,” Gretchen Selfridge, Chipotle’s Restaurant Support Officer, and the chain’s top female executive tells FOXBusiness.com. According to Selfridge, currently 2% of employees take advantage of the tuition reimbursement plan and Chipotle has contributed $5 million in tuition reimbursement to about 1,600 employees.

“It’s always been a very high priority for us to have these employee programs and benefits that allow us to attract and retain the best people to work in our restaurants,” says Chris Arnold, Chipotle’s communications director.

Under the new Guild partnership, employees can pay as little as $250 a year to go to college. Selfridge hopes that the expanded educational opportunities can boost employee participation by as much as 10%. Nearly half of the employees who take advantage of the tuition reimbursement are hourly employees and the majority are working crew and cashier positions. According to Selfridge, most employees are earning undergraduate degrees and many of them are first generation college students.

But can Chipotle afford the program after taking a tremendous loss from the 2015 E.coli outbreak? According to Arnold, the program won’t come at a big cost to them. “We view it far more as an investment than a cost,” says Arnold. He and Selfridge also noted that the plan to expand educational opportunities was in motion well before the E.coli outbreak.

Analysts from J.P. Morgan (JPM) predicted that the outbreak would cost Chipotle three full years of earnings and Wedbush Securities predicts that the chain won’t recover lost sales until 2018. The burrito chain’s worth has fallen from $22.4 billion in September 2015 to $11.72 billion in August 2016.

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